I must have been about six when I first felt the urge to take a journey on my own. I just wanted to pack a potli , go off to a distant land and be by myself. That urge never really left me, and now, at almost nearing my half century, I feel it stronger than ever.
I had been dreaming of a solo getaway for quite some time now (last 2 years to be precise), and I finally decided to ‘just do it’ in the August of 2016. Why solo? That is the first question asked when you (a woman!) share your plan with the world. To be truthful, someone who understood would never ask me that question. And I did not find it necessary to explain to someone who obviously did not understand. I am lucky to have people in my life who sometimes (most times) don’t understand me, but love and accept me (with all my weirdness intact) just the way I am. These are the people who are the wind beneath my multi colored gossamer wings. (I wear them all the time. If you close your eyes and look through your soul, you can see them too. All of us have wings. It’s just that some of us have decided to take them out of storage and wear them all the time.)
I have nothing against traveling in groups. Actually, traveling in a group can be a lot of fun! I have done that too. But traveling solo is about the peace and quiet. It is about me and nobody else. While there is safety in numbers, traveling solo gives you freedom.
I wanted to go somewhere in the Himalayas, where my soul always feels at home. I chose Mcleodganj, home to the Dalai Lama, nestled among the mighty Dhauladhars in Himachal Pradesh. Why Macleodganj? The truth is, two writers drew me there. In the past I have been drawn to places by the books I have read. It was Ruskin Bond who drew me to Dehra Doon, Mussoorie and Landour , and Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide to the Sunderbans. I was drawn to Mcleodganj by two writers, David Michie and Abhinav Chandel.
David is the writer of The Dalai Lama’s Cat series. I was enamored by the simplicity with which he spoke spirituality from the eyes of a cat. Apart from that he walks you through the streets and alleys of Mcleodganj and talks about the numerous cafes and their excellent food.
Abhinav is a traveler, a wanderer in the true sense. He shares his experiences on a Facebook page called The Himalayan Club, of which I am a member. Each picture he posts is accompanied by a story and a true lover of the Himalayas cannot help but be drawn to the places he describes through his photos and writing. He spoke of the grandeur of the mighty Dhauladhars, the ethereal landscapes, the mysterious woods and the happening cafes. For a mountain crazy foodie, it is a call to be answered.
Bhavini, whom I have just got to know, whom I haven’t met, taught me that freedom is a choice. From a distance, I can anchor the freedom in her soul. Bhavini is a corporate. She spends part of her year working from home at Dharamkot, a tiny village near Mcleodganj. She is also a yoga teacher and above all, a beautiful illuminated soul.
As I read these people and admired the photographs, I had three options.
- I could sit in my reading nook and dream about this place.
- I could wait and see who would be free and interested in coming along with me for this trip.
- I could just pick up my backpack and leave alone.
I chose the third option. I planned an itinerary within my means and booked my tickets.
Safety – that is foremost in the minds of your loved ones when you are a woman and are traveling alone in this country. But I believe that India is as safe or unsafe as any other country in the world. I believe that the number of good people far exceeds the bad and I still have faith in my countrymen. I knew I would be safe.
I wanted to make this trip as low cost as I possibly could. So I decided to travel by train. I have always loved train journeys and prefer them over air travel any day. So the Rajdhani Express it was from Guwahati at 7:10 am. I arrived at the railway station well ahead of time, only to learn that the train was delayed by an hour. The Rajdhani Express comes to Guwahati all the way from Dibrugarh and it was slowed down by the heavy downpours and flood situation in Upper Assam. Fortunately, the railway station has free wifi and an hour passes by with ease. Finally, the train arrives, I get in, find my seat and my journey begins. I am off on my trip for two weeks, entirely on my own!!!
I have traveled alone several times before, from my student days in Delhi in the early 90s, to work related conferences, workshops and seminars. But this is different. I am off to a new place, with no fixed plan for a holiday by myself. I am expecting this trip to be a journey into myself, a soul searching retreat. I am hoping to catch up on my meditation and do some writing. I will be staying with a Himachali family in Lower Barol, Dari, 30 mins from Macleodganj. I am looking forward to eating their home cooked Himachali meals. I am hoping to see for myself all the places that have called out to me from those pictures and books.
As the train rocks me to sleep, I dream of misty mountains and lush green meadows.