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The author pens a vivid account of her first solo trip to Himachal Pradesh. The trip brought out the adventurer in her and gave her new perspectives.
So, I took my first solo trip in India this summer, and I survived! Yay! After all those months of travel anxiety and panic attacks. After days of deliberation, discussion and disappointment; of not having someone to go with me, I concluded that one of the easiest ways to ease my nerves, dispel the fears and enjoy, was to join a group tour!
Someone asked me about the tour at the end of it. All I felt was relief, to be back home, in one piece! There were some good times, and then there were the not so good times. So did any good come out of the not so goods? I am excited to share my experience of that week-long tour to Himachal Pradesh!
‘I was never going to go if I waited for someone to go with me’ – Laura
No one asked me to go solo. I went because of my passion for travel. I had promised myself a summer escape and had ‘no one’ to take me. I was tired of convincing others to go with me, and importantly I was too tired of being dependent on others ‘to take me, and to take care of me’. I had been carrying the ‘dependent tag’ for too long now, and I wanted to get rid of it, be it for a week! This was something I HAD to do, for myself.
As I travelled with a group, one might wonder ‘Oh you went with a group? You weren’t alone, you had others with you?’ Yes and no. Yes because with a group, undoubtedly there is safety in numbers, with the tour manager always there to help and show you the way, ensuring nobody gets left behind, and that is reassuring.
No, because the tour manager cannot always, and other members will NOT always be with you, and why would they? They will be with each other (couples together, families together).
You are the one making an effort to be with them, at times running after them! There was no family member or friend with me, I was with complete strangers.
From a health and safety point of view, I had some newly invented scenarios playing in my mind. From getting lost to terrible things happening to the aircraft/ coach, right up to an imaginary intruder breaking into my hotel room, you name it, and I had it on my list of ‘worst possible things that could happen’. Once the tour got underway, the fears just disappeared.
When you are the only solo traveller in the group, when you leave behind your comfort zone, when you are not used to unsanitary public washrooms, when it is rough, when you are not accustomed to eating out constantly in alien places and when you are not used to mingling with strangers, it’s a constant adjustment.
The tour was arduous to the extent that on an average we spent at least 12 hours on the road – which included city sightseeing and shopping (sometimes even along the way) lunch, tea and washroom breaks.
The saving grace after all this were cozy, comfortable rooms and delicious food.
My room in Shimla
I tried various new stuff. The Kesar aamras and puri, amazing cashew karela sabzi, tasty sabudana vada, boiled egg pakoda, yummy masala poha, masala egg bhurji, paneer lollipop( with a french fry stick), gavran (village) chicken curry with vade, Punjabi mutton curry, Punjabi samosa and many more delectable food charmed my taste buds.
Some tea- time treats
Malpuas, pineapple and lauki halwa
Some pictures of the numerous sights we visited
India gate, Delhi (bonus sightseeing)
At Rose garden, Chandigarh
Shimla Christ church
Being on bad, bumpy, serpentine roads, high-up in the hills for 12- 14 hours, almost every other day, was gruelling. Add long traffic jams and the journey got harrowing too. It was a test of patience.
Beautiful sights of wheat fields, deep gorges, glimpses of distant snow-clad mountains, the stunning Beas river, bracing cool weather and yummy complimentary dry snacks and treats along the way, compensated for everyone.
Winding hilly roads
A glimpse of the Beas river
The camaraderie and bonhomie inside the coach we travelled in with engaging games like Antakshari, dumb charade etc, the music, made it easier to bear.
When you get stuck for hours in a traffic jam, besides tons of patience one needs a strong bladder with exceptional endurance to get through. As a woman, one had to forget about privacy, modesty and seek relief behind the bushes/rocks.
I chose endurance over embarrassment, for five hours! Shifting the weight of an aching bladder, holding on tight to the seat handle until 10 pm, I passed this endurance test with flying colours!
When there is no one to hold your hand, you have to fend for yourself, and in available time – organizing, packing, checking- out of hotels every second day, preparing as per the next day’s itinerary/ weather by getting up extra early, gearing up for summer, snow or rain, getting off the coach into smaller vehicles for certain sightseeing/ shopping places, getting ‘airport ready’ (last two days all of us had to manage with all essentials in our hand-bag with no access to check-in bags).
The frantic pace got overwhelming without a back-up person – managing within available resources e.g. when I was running out of cash, toothpaste, data in my phone.
It made me resourceful too. For example, when the short cord of the electric kettle did not reach the power socket, I balanced the hotel room menu folder on two drinking glasses and placed the kettle on the folder so that I could plug it in and make myself a cup of tea.
When it got bitterly cold in Shimla, when my woollens were inadequate, I helped myself stay warm by layering clothes.
When I wasn’t very well there was no option but to cope alone, manage my emotions, hold my own, and get by unaided, at times.
This was after an exhausting 14 hour road journey. I was allotted my single occupancy room, located fairly away (and outside) from the main hotel building. It was in a secluded, dimly- lit corner on the second floor .The washroom with two wooden doors leading up to it, felt cut off. All the neighbouring rooms were locked and unoccupied! So after dinner, at 11.00 pm, feeling isolated and insecure, I had to protest. I was given another room – bigger, more beautiful, better located.
“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no” – Nora Roberts
The beautiful views outside the balcony of my hotel room
What do you do when you have compromised on your hygiene standards, got struck by diarrhea, have these sudden, frequent urges to run to the toilet and there isn’t one? Well unfortunately I was in that position, hanging in there for two hours, until we got to a toilet. It wasn’t funny.
How did I manage to stay calm? With will power or inner strength I suppose? By praying, fighting tears, taking deep breaths, when I was in dire need to use a toilet!
Thankfully I had made it a point to carry all emergency medications from home including anti-diarrhoeal and a packet of oral rehydration, and luckily, this was the second last day of the tour.
We were at Solang valley, and just as I was planning to go on the ropeway ride to the snow point, seeing a few members in the group trek up to the snow-point, without much thought or clear instructions, I decided to walk with them. I had forgotten that it was a good 5 km both ways (and not 5 min) – I did not know that it demanded a very good level of fitness.
I embarked upon this back-breaking, steep and challenging climb through rugged terrain, slogging my way up, in additional layers of snow attire. It was tricky to navigate the at times descending, at times ascending path. Circumventing around and between boulders, avoiding the stumbling, slipping on uneven, unsafe rocks, water and slush, dodging animal poop…
Half- way up I lost sight of the others! I had to take a few minutes break to ease my half-bent back, by sitting on a rock. Then stoically I picked myself up and by puffing, panting and sweating, laboured on. Seeing my state, passers-bye stopped to help. Local pony owners stopped and said ‘Madam ghode pe jao, aapse nahi hoga’! Being fiercely determined to reach the destination by myself, I plodded on unwaveringly.
I must have walked at least for an hour which felt like all day. When I eventually reached the snow point, I was on the verge of collapsing. The photographer at the snow-point was baffled that I wanted to have my pictures taken.. after all this!
At Solang valley snow point
Fortunately, there was company for me coming downhill. Sliding down the snowy slopes (hands and feet numbed by the freezing temperature) holding on to whatever I could, slipping every now and then on ice/ snow, we started off.
The sudden boom of thunder in the snow-capped mountains, the drizzle with clouds hovering everywhere, was a sight to behold! Every breath of the blast of fresh, icy mountain air along with whiffs of smoke from the tea- stalls, together with the aroma of Maggi noodles, awakened the senses. I wanted to freeze this moment forever. By the time I got downhill with the others (saving myself from the processions of ponies, snow-scooters, approaching every two minutes without warning) the rain was pelting down!
I was annoyed with myself, for taking such a hasty decision and disappointed on missing out the rope-way ride, but I had the satisfaction and self-assurance of doing what had seemed impossible to me. After all what is life without a bit of risk and adventure?
The next evening was relaxing – with entertainment like a magic show, Tambola, get-together for birthday celebrations in the group, a bonfire followed by DJ and dance night.
I am still humming the foot-tapping – ‘Ho aavi gayi raat, mann bhulo badhi vaat, prem niya mausam chhe’.. this groovy track which got me to the dance floor that chilly April night, will always take me back to Manali.
If there is something I could take away from this tour, it is the knowledge that I am more resolute and resilient than I thought and capable enough of managing independently, and that, is a nice feeling.
Images provided by the author
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