Tuesday, April 22, 2014

iFeature | Introspective Notes On Travelling Solo

I took my first step in the direction of solo travelling about 18 months ago. It has been an introspective journey, and on my recent trip to the white salt desert of Kutch, I realized that the questions I’ve been asked have also helped me answer why I like to travel this way.

Why did I take my first solo trip?

Trasi, solo travel


Trasi – My first solo trip destination

Solo travel largely stemmed from my realization that synchronizing travel dates with friends and being granted leave from work was a twain that would never meet. Nor was I going to let those ‘leaves’ lapse because I was challenged for companionship. I owe my travel bug to my genes, which is why my parents understood (I think). But boy was I a bundle of nerves! I was stepping out of my comfort zone in every sense of the word. I’d hardly if ever stepped out in my own city by myself and now suddenly I’d signed up for this. Trasi, a quaint unadulterated beach 50 kms from Udupi, was the destination of my first solo trip. I was a lot more self-conscious getting on that train, constantly aware of being observed. All of which was dissipated the moment I reached Trasi and laid my eyes on the beach for the very first time; because until then, I’d only heard about marooned beaches! So I had the beach house and the beach all to myself. I could not have asked for better.

Why do I continue to travel solo?
About a month ago, I had embarked on yet another of my solo trips and ventured off to explore the magic of Kutch. The first question thrown at me by a fellow inhabitant at the homestay I was putting up at (after it was established that I was indeed travelling by myself) was this: “Are you a tourist or a traveller?” I recall sitting at the table for breakfast, and this was moments after introductions were made and pleasantries exchanged. I had provoked a question I didn’t have an answer for. Then suddenly one among them responded saying, “Traveller, obviously. Well, if she travels on her own like this, she couldn’t be a tourist!” I liken solo traveling to a drug. Being on your own – right from planning the ‘where’, figuring out the ‘getting there’ and accommodation to picking out for yourself the sites you want to see – is an increasingly liberating experience that is difficult to put down in words. I am yet to experience any other activity that allows you the kind of freedom that solo travel can provide. Anyone can – and ideally everyone should – try out solo travel just once, because you never come the same person who had set out a few days ago.

Do I get lonely while travelling alone?
Rann of kutch, solo travel India
At the Rann of Kutch on a full moon night.

That same evening in Kutch, I was in the company of another duo – two women who were working professionals from Ahmedabad and who unlike the previous bunch, weren’t as surprised to have met a solo traveller. On the contrary they were rather appreciative of my choice – being travellers themselves. We travelled together the next day to the Rann of Kutch.

The landscape of Kutch – it’s sheer expanse, miles and miles of nothing but flat plain land bordering the salt plains – complimented by the dry hot air had already begun to have a certain effect on me. And the famous white salt plains are magnificent to behold. I was fortunate and I’d recommend anyone to be there on a full moon night to witness a spectacle that will forever be imprinted in your mind.

The duo I’d travelled with to the Rann, however were headed back the next day and I found myself in the company of a young married couple from the UK who’d been traveling all around India over the past two months, beginning with Kerala, journeying further north, and arriving in Kutch for a few days. The hidden element about solo travel is that you end up being much more open to interactions whether with locals or fellow travellers. In my experience, I’ve realized that people tend to watch out for me if I’m seen on my own albeit still curious by the solo traveller tag. Now, who says solo travellers are lacking any company!

Do I get bored without company?
Lastly my travel to and around Kutch was not without my interactions with the locals in the region – mostly in the form of people who took me around as I explored. I was particularly amazed by my autorickshaw driver who could spew facts and information about the region so lucidly that moments after our conversation, when I’d strolled into the City Museum I found myself reading the same bits of information off the many signboards! Another local who’d accompanied me to Dholavira – the Indus Valley civilization site in India – was curious to know whether I always travelled by myself and how I could claim I didn’t get bored. Well, I can because I’m catching up with my reading (there will be at least 3 books in my backpack), some writing (far away from the maddening crowd), a lot of travelling (obviously), interacting with people and doing the nothing I want to do (but cannot otherwise).

What has solo travel taught me?

On each of my solo trips, I have witnessed an India that’s very different from the India that gets represented in the newspapers every day. My travels, and not just in Kutch, have often had my faith restored and my perspective broadened.

Enroute to the Rann during our interactions with the artisans for instance, we visited a few craft villages at Nirona. I realized that my companions were deeply engaged in what seemed to me like a debate. On eavesdropping, I learnt that they shared differing views on what might be an ideal intervention to mainstream, in a such a way that these artists were able to command a certain demand for their products, while also being provided some form of capacity building support to enable them to match up to the needs of their customer base.

What struck me as being different about their conversation was just how mindful each of them had been when voicing their own opinion – in that they weren’t disrespectful or dismissive of the other’s viewpoint even though they disagreed, and yet they were both equally assertive when opining their own views.

On the other hand, the couple from the UK were on their honeymoon. They shared with me how they’d requested guests at their wedding in August last year to contribute to their travel fund rather than buy them any gifts. They will be hosting their photographs and notes from their time here on a private website, and share it with those who’d helped them make this journey to India. It was equally engaging talking to one of them, who works with a charity in the UK and as I am engaged with something similar here in India, our conversations veered around just how effective some of the interventions and approaches adopted by such organizations were proving to be and what might we need to do differently.

It’s snippets like these, and the stillness within all things nature, that never leave me feeling bored or lonely during my solo travels.
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This post was originally featured on the Travelyaari Blog here

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