I left home a tearful mama and made acquaintance with a French filmmaker in a bus headed to McLeod Ganj. It’s been 30 years since Pierre started visiting India annually. After dropping out of a psychology degree, he became a devout disciple of Krishna Murti, the great Indian philosopher. He now stays in India for 3 to 4 months at a stretch and works at the various schools Krishna Murti established all over the country. He tells me the mountains in Ladakh are the best he has ever seen anywhere in the world. “Mont Blanc and the Swiss Alps don’t stand a chance.” One of these years he somehow acquired the permit to see the Chinese border on Indian land and then proceeded to Tibet along with his Sherpa to shoot a beautiful documentary. “It was quite an adventure”, he recalled.
I woke up to a beautiful Himachali sunrise with mountain roads lined with trees bearing big bright red flowers. These are locally called buransh I overheard my bus driver say, and are used to make jams, juices and chutneys that prevent from heat.
Once in the narrow winding lanes of Little Lhasa, I head out in search of a place to stay. After almost an hour of walking up and down, I stumbled upon the little Tashi Khangsar Travel Lodge sitting at a height right opposite Hotel Green Café on Bhagsu Road in McLeod Ganj, run by a kind Tibetan lady since the past 27 years. I was offered a single bedroom for 300 rupees a night which I readily accepted. It was a decent room with a window overlooking the town, situated a few metres away from the Town Centre.
Later during the day, I treated myself with a heavenly slice of some chocolate cake at the quaint little Chocolate Lodge, for making it this far, all by myself. Soon I founded myself roaming around aimlessly through the streets of McLeod Ganj and ended up at the Dalai Lama Temple, and thank God I did. I was just in time to see the monks chanting the afternoon prayer and what a colourful sight it was!
On any given day the thought of the sound of about 30 monks chanting some Tibetan prayers would seem the most monotonous of the sounds, but not that day. There was a certain calmness that enveloped me as soon as I entered the prayer hall and left me almost teary-eyed at the thought of how I lucky I was to have chanced upon something so pure and serene. But once I was back in my room with nothing left to do, I found myself struggling to keep myself occupied, and rooting for some company. I finally ended up sitting alone at the terrace under the slight drizzle, reminding myself that I’ve just begun. I realized travelling solo isn’t as rosy as it might seem, but it’s a process.
Later that night I spent a few hours at ‘Khaana Nirvana’ cafe in McLeod Ganj and the night scene of this little town had me. Little did I know, beer could taste so much better when you’re in the hills, all by yourself, listening to some old Bollywood songs being played by a band at a rooftop café decorated with fairy lights. As the cold beer entered my system, I slowly but surely found myself warming up to the idea of travelling solo.
Fast forward to the next morning, and I’m heading out of McLeod Ganj, passing through Dharamkot for my 12-kilometre trek to Triund. Halfway into the well-defined narrow rocky terrain, I could start feeling the sun scorching down on me and my heavy rucksack weighing me down. The fellow traveller I had met on my way was way ahead of me now and I could feel myself taking short breaks after climbing every few metres. My initial enthusiasm had definitely begun to wear off and I also considered spending the night at one of the many shops along the way. But then I kept reminding myself about all the work it had taken me to convince my parents that I had it in me to take care of myself. Or the enthusiasm with which I had raided a Decathlon store. I told myself I wouldn’t let any of that go to waste and half tired half dead, I carried on.
When I took that last step and climbed on top of the Triund ridge, I felt the wind knock out of my lungs. The imposing structure of the Dhalaudhar mountains of McLeod Ganj so close to me that I could almost touch them and the mighty Mun peak shining in all its glory, with the snow glistening in the setting sun, was all the pat on the back I needed. There were way too many people for my liking but I was all okay with Mun keeping me company. I rushed to the one little spot facing east in the entire campsite and quickly spread out my tent and pitched it.
As I saw the mountains change colour from white to golden to pick to pitch black, I knew I was going to be okay. But what I did not know was that my sleeping bag would keep slipping down because my tent was pitched on a slope, at the edge of the ridge. So instead, I spent the entire night listening to my neighbours speculate that I must have had a heartbreak that I decided to travel solo, and hoping to dear god to not fall off the cliff and die! (Give me a break, it was my first night in a tent.)
The next morning I climbed down with Dr Vikrant and Dr Suman, a power couple I met at the campsite who were travelling through Himachal on a bike. They had recently done the Parashar Lake trek and Dr Vikrant’s knowledge left me astounded and we spoke about a number of things from astronomy to living a balanced life, from self-care to caring about nature and the environment we live in. We parted ways at the end of the trail, and I took the evening bus and returned home.
The reason I tell you this is that there’s so much you are missing sitting at home and sulking about the trip that got cancelled because your friends ditched you last moment. If you really want to travel, you don’t need company. The Universe will find a way to keep you safe if you respect yourself, and all that is around you. You don’t need courage, or heartbreak to go solo. A sense of respect and a relentless passion is all you need.
To the person reading this,
Take the plunge and travel solo. It will change your life.
A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.