(Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Darshana Gupta. She quit her day job in Mumbai at a publicity firm and discovered solo travel in December 2013. She writes about her insights and errors as an Indian woman on the road alone.)
The decision of going with the flow was an unprompted one. Quitting my job and having nothing to do was little scary. There was no doubt that I had got used to a certain routine — waking up at a particular time, having breakfast, boarding a train and rushing to office. I followed the usual work pattern of people in the city, leaving for home in the evening, sometimes very late evenings, catching up with friends at times or attending belly dance class thrice a week, then getting back home exhausted. Besides work, I couldn’t actually think of any other activities which I was fondly interested in like yoga, meditation or practicing dance, taking a walk in nature.
Fears and thrills
This impulsive decision of going solo gave me a chance to unlearn and add value to my personality. Yes, there was fear, fear of what if I dodged out of the herd, fear about whether I will be able to take care of myself away from my folks and friends in an unfamiliar place. But with this fear, there was courage to do something my soul craved — the thrill of seeing and living life at unknown places without depending on anybody.
Slow travel changes you (for life)
Over a year of slow travel (connecting to a place and its people), some marked changes started happening to me:
My behaviour changed: When I started out, I was a slightly aggressive person. Travelling has made me softer, more understanding and adaptable to situations that come my way. I can manage my time better. I engage in activities that add value to my life, be it yoga or belly dance, cooking, reading.
I love ghar ka khana: Being away from home makes one realise the importance of home-cooked food, because that is something I missed the most. Living on my own, I started getting interested in understanding food and started cooking for myself too. I opened myself to trying new recipes from various countries.
Travel infused confidence in me: I have always been an outgoing person, but after going solo, I have become more confident about myself and about my life choices. I can easily walk alone, strike up a conversation with strangers and love my own company when need be. I am not hesitant to attend a public event, step into a restaurant, walk on the beach, take a long ride by bus, plane or train unaccompanied.
I became calmer: Travelling solo has helped me deal with problems calmly because I have learnt that nothing lasts forever, and there is a solution to everything.
I live simply: When you have just four to six pairs of clothes in your bag and basics in your backpack, one may soon realise that life is very simple. We unnecessarily stuff multiple things which are not-so-important. What is important is gathering meaningful life experiences. It is vital to be content and appreciate what you have rather than what can be achieved.
“One of the best things of solo travelling is meeting people from all walks of life. Whom you want to trust, because you both are on the same journey, walking alone. This is Zuga from Zimbabwe. He met me briefly when I arrived in Kasol, and later when I moved up the mountains where he was already stationed, he secured a room for me in advance at a guest house which was running full with the bestest mountain view! Phew… believe me, he didn’t even mention this to me. It was such a relief, as I got to this place late evening, and hunting for a guest house could have been a disaster,” says Darshana.
Moment of anxiety (and train travel tip)
My very first moment of anxiety was during an overnight train journey in sleeper class from Mumbai to Goa. I had booked a lower seat, keeping in mind the window seat which I loved. But the choice this time didn’t go in my favour, as I was alone. It was around 11pm, I was all set to sleep, when I suddenly felt the presence of a man close to me. He had occupied the space on the floor next to mine, carrying a little cloth bag with a turban. He was eating food from a piece of paper. The moment I turned, he tried to strike a conversation in a miserable tone and also offered a morsel from what he was eating. I asked him to vacate the place immediately due to the inconvenience he was causing and preferably look for another spot where people had no objection. He refrained, which forced me to warn him that if he didn’t, then I will shout out to fellow passengers or a ticket checker. He grumbled, then left that space. When I reviewed the entire situation, I realised that these circumstances may occur in the future too, so rather than grumbling, I should avoid them. Since then, I always try and book an upper berth. Believe me, it’s perfect as it registers your space away from the crowd and also makes me feel secure.
Taking a forbidden path has its perks
Another big experience was during my long stay in Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh. Known for its scenic snow-clad mountains, beautiful weather, lovely food, and for hosting His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. Exploring the roads was usual for me, but this time, I decided to push my limits and go trekking to the beautiful Truind Hill. I was with a traveller from Sweden whom I had met at an Ashram in Puducherry. Without doing much research, we started our journey around 8am. Most of the people opted to take their cars till a certain point, but we chose to walk the length. We asked the locals for directions at a temple.
We assumed that we were on the right path, but gradually, we found the path narrowing, with bushy, cactus plants at some points. I doubted the route, but my friend chuckled that life is an adventure and one should explore the unexplored and do things with trust and confidence. We found beautiful waterfalls on the way, some snow on the narrow path, bringing a big smile on my face. This was the first time I saw and touched snow!
Later, we found heavy snow ahead. I felt like giving up. My fellow traveller made foot marks on the snow with his shoes to get a better grip for both of us. We came across another path which was densely covered with snow. This time, we crawled like monkeys, my shoes already freezing. Now I was scared, and decided to quit. Since my fellow traveller is an experienced trekker, he continued ahead and asked me to wait for him to return. He went ahead with my camera. I was now perched on a hill top, looking at the deep valleys. I checked my phone. There was no network. I closed my eyes to meditate. It was beautiful, but suddenly when I opened my eyes, I realized I am on a hilltop alone. Terrifying thoughts hit me. What if my friend doesn’t come back? That changed when I saw my friend making his way back, giggling. The way ahead was completely covered in snow and led nowhere, so he came back with some amazing photographs. We took in the view, and went back. But this time, it was even more difficult. My friend tried to hold my hand, lost his grip and took hold of a tree bark. I was going crazy. I balanced my body carefully, arms horizontal, and led him back this time.
When we shared this experience with the localites we’d met at the temple, they said we had taken the forbidden path. Many people who had gone before us, didn’t return. They shared stories of wild bears and a “snow waterfall”. We had goosebumps and thanked God for giving us a second life. I did go to Truind Hill a second time with another traveller, and the experience was more pleasant. The trek was a lot easier and more fun.
Life may be full of challenges, if one has the zest to deal with it and concentrates on the path, the surrounding doesn’t matter. If I had not taken the forbidden path, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the right one!