4 Ways To Pass Your Time When Stranded At a Station While Traveling

I was recently traveling to Dharamsala and McLeodGanj (the place where Dalai Lama resides), and while returning, I had 7 hours to kill as my train was at 12 in the night, and I was at the station around 5pm. But this was not something I was facing for the first time. I have often had situations where the train or bus or plane has been delayed, or I have arrived early for the same. And I think this is a very common situation one finds oneself in when one is traveling. So what does one do to pass the time? Here are some things that I usually do.

Check Out The Place : If your train/bus/plane has been delayed, or you have arrived early and you have a couple of hours in hand, it is always a good idea to check out that place. The area around a Bus or Train Station is usually pretty crowded and happening too, especially if it is a tourist place. There are a number of shops selling local handicrafts and goods. If you are a food lover, these places also have a lot of food joints and are a good option to try some local cuisines and delicacies. This is especially true in case of India. If you are in an airport lounge, you will find shops selling local handicrafts or other stuff unique to that place, and could be a good option to take back as souvenirs.

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Make friends : In case you are stranded because your flight/train/bus has been delayed, it is a great opportunity to make new friends. A lot of people you meet in such situations are travellers, and this is a great way to bond with them and exchange tips etc. about other interesting places. If you are traveling to their city, they could host you as well and show you around. People you meet under such situations are often very friendly, and looking out for other travellers with whom they could bond, and may be you could plan your next trip with them! Also, life is full of opportunities, and who knows this could be a life long bonding. Remember the movie ‘Before Sunrise’, where the two lead actors meet during a train journey only to fall in love!

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Get on Grindr : So I don’t think I need to tell anyone about it, because the first thing that gay men usually do when visiting a new place is log on to grindr and change the name to “Visitor”( or “Visiting”). But apart from the humpty-dumpty stuff that you use grindr for, it could actually be a good way to meet people who could act as your local guide, or could help show you around. When I was visiting Agra (the city of Taj Mahal), I met a guy via grindr who showed me around and acted as my guide while visiting Taj Mahal!

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Watch a Movie : Well, this is an old fashioned option that you have. You could watch a movie on your phone, or search for a cinema hall or multiplex nearby and catch the latest show. This is what I did during my recent trip to Dharamsala. I asked for the nearest theatre, and bought tickets for the movie that had just begun. It helped me pass  3hours (it was a 3 hour biopic!!) without getting bored.

Apart from these, you can always read a book, play crossword, sudoku, mobile games. Try and make the most of the time and place you are at. Also, would be lovely to hear from you as to what you do when you are under similar situations.

5 Reasons Why People Love to Travel

1) To Explore a New Place : While not all of us can be Columbus, the spirit to travel the world and explore new places exist within all of us. If you are live in a city, countryside excites you, if you live in a small town, the fast paced life of a city brings you excitement. From the picturesque Himalayas and Alps, to the wonders of the world, there are too many places in the world that would steal your heart away and which would you like to experience for yourself.

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2) To Run From Boredom/Relax :  This is one of the major reason why people travel – to take a “break”. This is true for those people who often have a stressful life, working a 9-to-6 shift at office or can barely find out time for themselves. Going on a trip to a far away land not only breaks the monotonocity of life, it can also provide you with time for your own self. Working in a corporate setup, I have found that it is not just me, but a lot of people around me travel because they feel that they “need a break”. Travelling helps them refresh themselves and de-stress. For couples, travelling often means a romantic getaway which helps make their relationship stronger.

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3) Experiencing a New Culture – This is another reason why many people love to travel. Getting to know another culture, its beliefs and traditions can be quite educating and at times humbling. Many people often travel to a different place or country to get to know different cultures. At times they even spend many days there to learn more about the culture. Many travellers from the West coming to India spend months in India to learn about the culture and traditions.

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4) For the local cuisine : For many people, especially the food buffs, food is a great motivator to travel. Each place is often also associated with food – like Switzerland for its chocolate, Italy for its cheese, India for its spices. Travelling gives a chance to experience a variety of finger licking food to suit your taste buds. It is often the kind of food you will never find at the place you live, no matter how good a restaurant you go to in your own city.

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5) Adventure : Travelling in itself is a bit of adventure, but for the truly adventurous, it can mean going on treks in forests, climbing mountains, safaris in forests, or a bike trip across countries. The options are limitless, and the adrenaline rush it brings to you is priceless.

So what is your reason to travel?

What’s Best – Traveling Solo or in Group ?

Traveling is a stress buster. It is also a good way to get to know different cultures, people and food. I often go on short trips to different parts of India whenever I am too stressed out of the fast paced city life. It not only bring you relief, but also acts as a reminder of how diverse and wonderful the world and human race is. But when it comes to exploring an unknown place, should you be doing it alone, or is the company of friends a better option?

There is no straight (pun intended) answer to this question. Many people prefer traveling in groups, while some like me prefer to go solo. Traveling to a far away land can be intimidating for some, plus being alone at an unfamiliar place can be boring as well. That is why many people prefer to travel with friends or family in larger groups. It also gives you more bargaining power with the travel companies, and a bigger group can bring down your travel cost as well. It also gives you a sense of security. Additionally, if you are traveling to some remote place or hill station where hiring a vehicle is the only way to travel around, being in a larger group really brings down the individual price for the trip as the cost gets divided amongst the members.

However, if you are someone who enjoys solitude and the thrill of being in an unknown place all alone by himself/herself, solo travel is the thing for you. When you are traveling solo, your survival instincts kick in. You no longer have the luxury of someone else taking care of your needs. You actually talk to the local people and get to explore the local culture because that is the only option for you to find out about things. When you are traveling in a group, you often restrict yourself to your guide, or remain confined among your group.

I have traveled to some of the remotest parts of India alone, with little knowledge of the language that is spoken there, and have been helped by the locals in various ways, be it with directions or getting accommodation, or with transport, and bowled over by their hospitality. I have hopped on to local taxi or buses, been helped by strangers when I got stranded, and made friends with a lot of them as well. These are experiences that you will often miss out when you are traveling in a group.

Me at Hampi in Karnataka
Me at Hampi in Karnataka

So how you should travel depends a lot on the kind of person you are and the kind of adventures that you are seeking. But even if you have always traveled with friends, solo travel is something you must explore, at least once in your lifetime.

Orlando Shooting Proves Homophobia Remains A Worldwide Phenomenon

June is celebrated as Pride Month in US to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969. But this June was a tragic reminder of how vulnerable the LGBT community remains even in so called safe spaces when a gunman went about shooting people at a gay club called Pulse in Orlando, US. The exact motive of the gunman, identified as Omar Mateen, remains unclear, but homophobia surely was the driving force behind the attack that killed 49 people.

Omar’s father said that he had got agitated after seeing two men kiss, possibly pointing to his hatred towards the LGBT community as the motive. Then again, there have been claims by various gay men and his own wife that Omar was gay himself, leading some to believe that internalised homophobia might have driven him to this extreme step. Him owing allegiance to ISIS minutes before being killed further complicates the matter. ISIS has been know to murder homosexuals in gruesome manner in territory controlled by it. Whichever angle one looks at, homophobia remains at the centre of it.

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The Orlando shooting comes within two months of another gruesome murder of LGBT activists in Bangladesh. The general notion is that LGBT community is vulnerable in countries with homophobic laws, or in third world countries, while the West is considered as much safer. But the Orlando incident shows that it is not just in Islamic or African countries where the LGBT community remains unsafe. Despite advances, LGBT community is vulnerable even in the West. Homophobia remains a cause of concern worldwide.

Despite all this, we must remember that we must not cower or hide back in the closet. We must win over people and their “phobias” by educating them, by being open and showing them that there is no basis of their hatred. Such attacks want to install fear in our minds. We must be resilient and defeat such people through our fearless actions.

Travelling To India? These Cities Have a Vibrant Gay Culture

You probably already know by now that homosexuality is criminalised in India under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the existence of a law hasn’t deterred the queer community in India in any way, and a vibrant gay culture exists in various Indian cities. Here are some of the best cities to be LGBT in India.

1) Mumbai – The economic capital of India and the centre of Indian movie industry Bollywood, Mumbai has one of the most vibrant queer cultures. There are regular gay meet-ups and gatherings being organised by Gay Bombay group where everything from movie screenings to cooking classes to  talks on relationships are held.  Apart from this, the city also has one of the largest LGBT film festival called Kashish that is held in May. It just concluded last week and Sir Ian McKellen had inaugurated it this year. The city also holds one of the largest pride marches in January and it is usually preceded by a month of pride activities.

2) Bengaluru – The Garden City of India, also called the Silicon Valley of India, is one of the friendliest cities of the country and hosts a weekly meet every Thursday at the Good As You Office where around 20-30 gay men usually meet and engage in friendly banter and discussion on various queer topics. I once took a friend of mine who was visiting from France to one of these meets. Apart from this, there is a Gay Runners And Breakfast (GRAB) group which, as the name suggests, is a runners group that runs around the famous Cubbon Park every Sunday and then meets for breakfast. Bengaluru too hosts a Film Festival in February, while pride is held in November end, and is preceded by a month of pride related events.

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3) Delhi – Unlike Mumbai and Bengaluru, the capital city does not have regular official meet ups being organised by any group. But that doesn’t stop the queer community from coming together. You can find the LGBT community thronging Pallika Park at Connaught Place every Sunday evening. People come there with friends, to meet friends, to make friends. Other events that are held are usually communicated through social media or via email lists. Delhi also holds one of the largest pride parades in India and it is held around November end.

4) Kolkata – The people of the city are as sweet as the Rosogullas (a sweet dish). Sappho for Equality and Pratyay Gender Trust hold a film festival around November, while Pride March is held in December

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5) Chennai – Pride in the city is held in June. The city also has a queer literature group that meets regularly.

And if you are more into parties, then all of these cities also have gay parties every weekend. Apart from these, there are other cities like Hyderabad and Pune that are making their presence felt on the queer calendar with the increasing activities being organised or held in these cities.

If you plan to visit India, or any of these cities, do explore the local LGBT scene as well.

Section 377 & India : How Safe Is India for a Gay Tourist?

India is referred to as a sub-continent because of the varying weather, terrain, people and languages that you find in the country (well, actually the India sub-continent includes Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh too, but India is still no less of a sub-continent on its own). The country has 29 different states, each with its own distinct culture, language, food, sub-languages, dialects etc. The variety is so huge that if you move from one state to another, you might even be mistaken that you are in a different country!! During one of my own solo trips in South of India, I met two young German students who were stunned by the diversity they found in India and remarked that in Europe, you find a totally different culture and language only when you move from one country to another.

All this makes India an ideal travel destination for  a number of tourists. But India is also a country that criminalises anal and oral sex through Section 377 – a legacy of the times that Britain ruled over India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises “unnatural sex against the order of nature” and includes all non peno-vaginal sex. Although ideally the law should apply to straight people engaging in oral and anal sex, the law is widely perceived to be targeting LGBT people only. If convicted under this particular law, you could be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment.

However, the Indian LGBT community has been fighting this law in the courts for more than a decade now and met with success in 2009 when the Delhi High Court said that Section 377 should not apply for consensual sex. However this verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court by various religious groups, and the Supreme Court reversed the Delhi High Court judgement in Dec 2013 and re-criminalised anal and oral sex. Currently, the Supreme Court has agreed to re-examine its own verdict by a larger bench of five judges.

Section 377 in India has largely been a tool for the police to extort money from gay men at cruising spots and harass them by threatening to implicate them under Sec 377 if they do not pay them bribes. Recent crime data though shows that a number of cases were filed under Section 377 by the police, there is no distinction though if it was filed against LGBT people or in cases of child abuse (Section 377 is also often invoked in cases of child abuse).

Foreigners taking part in Delhi Queer Pride 2015
Foreigners taking part in Delhi Queer Pride 2015

Despite the existence of Section 377, more and more Indian cities are organising pride marches, LGBT film festivals, parties and other events. Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore see some of the largest pride marches of the country. There is a thriving LGBT culture in the larger cities, and people mingle and meet in parties, social events, and also via apps like grindr and planetromeo. A number of gay travel portals exist with a largely foreign clientele.

Apart from the legal front, socially, India is still a largely conservative country where public display of affection is generally frowned upon. But you will find a lot of homo-social behaviour which often stumps people visiting from West. Two men holding hands while walking on the road might imply they are gay in Western countries, but such a gesture holds no meaning in India.

India is a vast and beautiful country, a little chaotic may be, but definitely worth visiting. And when you make that trip, do check out the local LGBT scene as well.

Gay Men and Body Hair

There are two kinds of gay men – those who like a hairy body, and those who prefer a smooth (hairless) one. We all have our choices and our preferences, but our choices and “likes” are also influenced by the media and the things we see around us, something that is referred to as “social conditioning”. And if our preferences are in a way conditioned based upon what we see around us, how immune or susceptible is the gay community to this conditioning?

The answer in short is very susceptible. As a marginalised or persecuted group, for many in the gay community, the only interaction they have with other gay men/groups is through the portrayal in popular media. But popular media is not rebellious. It instead loves to stereotype people and project a certain image of people, based upon its own interests (or the interests of its advertisers).

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When huge amount of advertisement revenues are coming from razor companies, it becomes important for the media to also enable the business of the advertiser so that the revenue source doesn’t come to a halt. It is then that the media constantly bombards us with certain types of men to influence our thinking – men who are hairless, have a smooth body. When we grow up looking at (or seeing around us) men with smooth and hairless bodies as the only ones being projected as models, or desirable, we soon internalise the thought that the ideal male body is the one which has no body hair. And if the body has hair, be it on the chest, or the stomach, it needs to be either shaved or waxed.

Today a more diverse and realistic portrayal of men is being demanded from the popular media. Probably if there was a more diverse representation of men in media, we would be able to make our own choices, and hairy body will be in that choice.

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The Different Ways People Like to have Sex

Different people enjoy sex differently. Some enjoy being the Top, others Bottom, while there are those who enjoy being both. But this post is not about tops, bottoms or versatile. This post is also not about the various positions one may enjoy having sex in. Rather, this post is more about the idiosyncrasies of people (and mind you, I am not talking about fetish here) during sex.

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There are two kinds of people when it comes to having sex – those who keep the lights on, and those who prefer to do it in the dark. I belong to the first category, and I have often failed to understand why someone would want to have sex with lights turned off. In a pitch dark room, you can barely admire the naked body of the other, you can barely see the beast that will be awakened by your actions, and the worst of all, when any of you gets down to fuck, for the first few minutes, you are mostly trying to figure out where to put your cock. In such situations, we often come to a compromise where we have a dim light source in the form of a torchlight, or a the light from a computer screen. Some of my partners wanted to switch off the light because it somehow assured them that no one would be able to catch/see them having sex, although if anything, it would have made the neighbours only more suspicious.

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There are also the clothed and the naked men. Whereas most of us, while having sex are stark naked without even a single piece of cloth on our body, there are those who would not shed their clothes fully. The clothed variety is of different kind – some would just roll up their shirt and roll down their pants, but never taking them off fully. Others while taking off their shirt, prefer to hold on to their vest as some kind of protection.

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Then there are the kissers and the non-kissers. I am not sure if this category exists outside of South Asia or countries with a lot of homophobia. Many gay/bi men at least in India will not kiss. Their lips are a sacred place that remains out of reach. At least some of the bisexual men are clear that only a girl gets to kiss their lips. For some gay men too, the concept of kissing a man is too alien and probably that is the reason they cannot imagine doing the same. Internalised homophobia apart, one cannot rule out this aversion to kissing to the fact that in India at least, anything touched by someone’s mouth/saliva becomes the untouchable. A part of this concept probably pre-dates to a period of untouchability that was widely practiced in the country, and since then, we have been unable to shake it off completely. Needless to say, such men will not give you a blow job.

I am sure you would have encountered at least one among this list, and probably there would be more additions to it. May be you could tell the other kinds that I have missed.

Glimpses of Pride March from India

Two Indian cities held gay pride marched recently- Bengaluru on Nov 29th and Delhi on Dec 2nd. Both these cities have been holding pride marches since 2008. With a right wing government ruling India currently, and the shrinking space for free expression, pride march in both these cities extended support for other minorities and causes as well, demanding a society where everyone is able to freely express themselves. Homosexual acts remain criminalised in India under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Bengaluru Pride

A participant has his body painted

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A transgender person takes part in the pride marchBangalore Pride 2015 036

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Delhi Pride

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Foreigners take part in Delhi Pridedelhi_pride_firangs

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Another poster points out that Sec 377 is a British Legacybeefy_poster

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Internet and the Gay Rights Movement

Internet has been a boon to mankind in many ways. Its effects on the lives of humans have been, in some cases, revolutionary. It has not only connected the world and brought all information on our fingertips, but it has also been a refuge for many to find like-minded people. This has specially been true for movements and communities which have traditionally been shunned by the larger society.

For the LGBT community, the internet has certainly been a boon in many ways. The pre-internet days, for the LGBT community, meant cruising in parks, bars, toilets, or other joints to meet like-minded people. But this also meant that they could be easy targets for homophobic violence by police or others. There was little safety in meeting the way they did, and many indeed had horrible experiences as well. The best example of it remains the Stonewall Inn, a bar popular among the gay and trans community, but also targeted by the police regularly.

The internet suddenly provided the safe space that people craved for. There was now no need to go anywhere to meet or find other gay/bi/lesbian/trans individuals. There were a number of sites you could just log in and start a conversation with people. You could be in the privacy and safety of your room, and still ‘feel’ connected. What you chose to reveal, depended entirely on your comfort level. There was no fear of being ‘outed’ or being seen visiting a gay bar/club. A young gay kid could gather all the information and (virtual) support needed to come to terms with his/her sexuality.

The early days of internet had yahoo chat rooms and email lists. These also acted as forums for discussions of various kinds, on matters related to LGBT community. But soon, as the internet matured, there were “gay dating sites”. What these sites eventually turned out to be were hook-up sites. Conversations mostly began with “Hi”, followed by “ASL”. Attempts to connect with the person were restricted mostly to knowing the preferences on bed. The sudden access to a large pool of men also meant one was always looking to meet more men. The advent of mobile applications like Grindr have brought about further changes. A simple ‘Hi’ can be greeted by instant blocking. Everything increasingly became more self-centered.

sex positionOn the other hand, for queer organisations, reaching out to the LGBT population became easier. This is especially true for countries where homosexuality is still either criminalised, illegal, or is socially frowned upon, and most people prefer the privacy of the internet. In such countries, internet becomes the primary tool for dispensing information related to LGBT events (parties, film festival, pride march) to a larger queer audience. The advent of social networking sites like Facebook and their widespread use has further helped to mobilise the queer community, hold discussions on various topics, things that the gay dating sites lack. Features like “secret group” have ensured that people can be part of such groups and discussions without others in their network being aware of it, and that only trusted contacts get added to such groups.

Despite all this, what is also true is that the internet has stripped  people of the warmth and closeness, and to some extent, the feeling of a close-knit community. The bars and other spots in the pre-internet days were not just cruising spots, but also a place where “real” relationships and bondings happened. You cared about these people, because you knew them somehow, or would have seen them hanging out at the same place. This also gave a greater sense of community to people. This is also a reason why a police “raid” at Stonewall soon turned into a riot. Is such a Stonewall possible today?

gay hugThose who have experienced the pre-internet days rue about the lack of warmth in internet conversations now. Some still prefer to visit the old spots. Contrast this with the chats you have on Grindr or any other such service. Probably what we need is to complement our online activities with bonding with people over community events in the real world.