“Heard you are travelling alone. What happened?” “Are you really going to travel all by yourself?”, “Why don’t you take your parents or friends along?”
These are just a few examples of the questions I normally face when I travel alone. Travelling alone in our culture doesn’t have a very positive connotation because travelling in India widely means “vacationing” and traditionally vacations happen with families. Travelling alone is often perceived as something that needs fixing. Of course with the current trend of leaving corporate jobs to travel the world has infected many wanderers even in India. So many travel bloggers from India go solo, write about their experiences and inspire millions of people to do the same. Although I have travelled alone abroad, this summer was my first time travelling alone in India. And yes, I was inspired by a blog I read.
Being a photographer I often get to travel to beautiful places for work. This month work brought me to the once-quaint- little- town of Dehradun. Since I was anyway in Dehradun I decided to stay back and explore as much of Uttarakhand as I could.
After shooting an exhausting and fun North Indian wedding in Dehradun, I travelled to Mussoorie, Shivpuri (ca. 20kms off Rishikesh), Bhimtaal, and some remote villages in the Kumaon region (Gallibashura, Gallakot, Srinagar, Gaillick, Bashurkhet, Uchgal and Naugaon). Although I stayed alone in Shivpuri at the Panther campsite of Snowleopard Adventures, I didn’t truly feel alone because I was eating, rafting, ziplining and hiking with other guests at the campsite. While I met some wonderful people there, guests as well as staff members, I was constantly around “city people”. So even though the conversations were fun, they weren’t much different from the ones that I have otherwise.
The solo travel kick hit me for the first time when I took an overnight train from Haridwar to Kathgodam to drive to a tiny village called Gallibashura, some 22 kms off Ranikhet. The drive to Ranikhet was a long one, but the duration of the drive was only pleasing, for it went through scenic mountains, charming villages and beautiful valleys. Every once in a while you’d see a tea stall on the side of the road with an old man sitting on a stool staring at the road, talking to nobody.
After almost three hours of driving on the winding roads I was almost relieved to hear the driver announce my destination. I was to stay at a beautiful heritage home called Daancudi, restored and run by a lovely organization called Wildrift. But when the driver dropped me on the side of the road, all I could see was a valley. No heritage home.
The kindly driver squatted at the edge of the valley chewing a small stick. I squatted next to him waiting for something to happen. It was only after about 20 minutes that a scrawny kid appeared from the valley and without a word lifted my suitcase on his head and started climbing down. And just like that it dawned upon me, that I was going to be alone in the mountains, 20 minutes from the nearest motorable road with complete strangers…yeah I freaked out alright.
My fears were however quite short lived. The kind, pahadi people (all men, I must mention) who run the place, took me in like their own. I didn’t once feel like a guest. Before I knew it, I was making tea with them, I was chatting with them during dinner preparations, I was watching them play carom under a yellow bulb after the daily chores were done and I was discussing the futility of economic materialism around the bonfire when the electricity went out. Not once did I feel uncomfortable, insecure or lonely while I was under their roof.
They took me to their homes in the village, I played with their grandchildren, I cooked with their daughters, I went to the farm with their sons, and I saw old photographs with their parents. Even with their Spartan lifestyle the pahadi people have so much more than what we do! The effortlessness with which they laid my plate next to theirs, made me feel like a part of their homes, their lives, their village truly touched my heart. The honesty in the words, the innocence in their laughter and the warmth in their hospitality, is something you will never find in a hotel or a resort.
Because I travelled alone, I could spend all of my time with the people I was living with. I made such beautiful memories with the locals from all the villages, the affectionate family of the Smetaceks in Bhimtal and all the fellow travelers I met in Rishikesh. As a photographer, travelling alone makes all the sense in the world. You can take all the time you need and be wherever you want doing whatever you please. This makes the experience not only highly liberating, but also largely unique because people are more open to letting you in and be a part of their lives. It also gives you the rare opportunity of being in tune with yourself and the nature around you. You can catch up on life, live like a nomad, push your limits and see what you are like when you are out of your comfort zone, read books, be a nobody or even better be your own alterego..
To all the girls out there who are hesitating to travel alone, don’t. Learn to be watchful, plan your journeys yourself, always have a backup plan, be in constant touch with someone back home, trust your instinct, carry a pepper spray but don’t let anyone discourage you from doing a solo travel. It is definitely worth it.