month in November during the train journey from Mumbai to Delhi, I was mildly surprised when no one looked
my way with intent; not in the way I have gotten accustomed to being looked at.
And no, this
is not only because I am a woman but also because I am a woman unescorted
an Indian solo female traveller in India!
experience of travelling solo around India over the past 4 years has showed me
that you can reduce the chances of being looked at with intent – whether out of
curiosity or malice – by arming yourself with a book and pen or even a camera.
That and the presence of mind to not portray yourself as a damsel in distress,
But when you
spend over 36 hours on your own without being made to feel like you’ve
committed a grave transgression, you are likely to slip into a less on-the-defence mode.
So by the
time I had reached Dehradun after another train journey from Delhi, I had done
exactly that. Which is why making small talk with a co-passenger – a local – on
the shared taxi ride from Dehradun to Pantwari did not seem to trigger any
alarm bells for me; not initially at least.
here all the way from Mumbai? Just to visit a mountain village?”
“And so who
else is with you?”
“What? You’re here on your own? Why would
you do something like that?”
reasons nothing I could have said would absolve me from what I had done. I wasn’t
hearing this for the first time. And for equally obvious reasons I was not
going to stop doing what I have been doing either. But these questions were
coming from a place of concern – a feeling I am now all too well acquainted
with now. It makes people a lot more endearing to me for some reason.
into the journey and a couple of minutes before he was about to get off, he
by yourself can get lonely. It is always nice to have the company of people
learned that it is better to smile and let it pass than to rise in defence of ‘the
cause of the solo (female) traveller’.
even a battle so what’s there to fight about – I mean, no one is restricting me from doing
what I do. And for what democracy is worth, I tell myself that everyone is
entitled to their opinion.
And so when
I later got asked by a guest at The Goat Village
why my friends won’t travel
with me (which I interpreted as meaning to ask – “Do you have friends?”), I had
to give him the brief back story of why I travel solo
and how for me it isn’t
mutually exclusive from travelling with people – friends, acquaintances and
reminded me of my staycation in Goa
earlier in the year when my paternal uncle
who had come to receive from the station had asked: “You’ve come alone? I
thought you would come with your friends?”
Sure, it is
Goa and that’s what is expected. Perhaps. But when I relayed this to my
friends, one of them said, “You could have told your uncle that your friends
know how to give you your space.”
I find it strange
how we’ve conditioned ourselves into believing in binaries – i.e., you are
either friendless and therefore a solo traveller OR you are sociable and
therefore cannot travel solo!
me to another aspect of solo travel that seems to leave most people flummoxed –
“What do you do when you travel solo?”
To which my
answer is usually “nothing”.
being flummoxed has more to do with my answer than anything else!
how solo travel is still associated as being outlandish, it is understandable
why the question of how one passes their time would pique anybody’s interest.
there is no one fixed type of solo traveller. Like everybody else, we have our
own individual preferences and mine mostly borders around soaking in my
environment – which I haven’t found any other way of explaining.
So what does
‘doing nothing’ and ‘soaking in my environment’ usually translate to?
carried paperbacks in the past to keep me company. Much at the cost of anything
else that could go in my bag, including clothes! But I’ve recently made the
shift to my e-reader – which means that technically my getaways are not a complete
digital detox in the real sense of the word!
This I am
still old school about. So pen and paper it is. Plus writing it out helps me
join the dots that have been swarming in my head aimlessly – it’s my kind of
meditation. I realise that I do end up getting a lot more writing done when I
am on the go.
Taking my camera for a walk or a trek
I am not a
photographer but I enjoy taking walks and peering at everything around me from
behind the lens in as un-self-conscious a manner as I feel with the camera in
tow. This lends itself to spotting frames as well as life-forms, including avian
and floral that I, otherwise, have a tendency to overlook.
Watching clouds passing me by
The skies –
during the day as much as at night – leave me enraptured. This for me is what
truly being in the moment is representative of; something I struggle to bring
into regular practice once I’ve returned back to the world I am familiar with. This
‘being still’ includes soaking up amidst nature. And also people-watching.
everything I do belongs to the realm of solitude alone. Interacting with locals
be it about and over tea or their dogs and goats or about life in the cities
versus life in the villages, there’s always so much you realise that you don’t
instance, from my time at The Goat Village I picked nuggets on locally grown
grains and crops, understood a little bit about what a day in their life feels
like and heard opinions about how much Dehradun has changed from the quaint
town it used to be to the noisy wannabe-metropolis it has now become.
And it case
you’re wondering why I categorize all of the above as ‘doing nothing’, it is
because none of this requires me to cross things off a to-do list!
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