By Swati Poddar:
It’s been my dream to travel the world. I have long been charmed by the idea of unfathomable and exotics beauty, the vastness and diversity of culture and the varied people of this planet. I am from Purnea, Bihar and work as an IT Professional in Bengaluru. Girls in India are generally trapped under several layers of limitations and restrictions that they are expected to follow by their family the society, but fortunately, I have been a bit lucky spending my life since the age of 10 being away from home and relishing freedom to lead, explore and evolve in life independently.
The thought of travelling alone in India draws surprised and sarcastic expressions along with uninvited advice and doubts. Whereas for western countries, it’s quite normal. Travelling, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures gives you diverse experiences and broader vision for life enhancing your wisdom in a way that you can never acquire in a routine life. “Go alone and explore life” – This is what was resounding in my subconscious, but I was drowning in a fear bowl where everything I planned seemed impossible. The dilemma was like a pendulum; thoughts were swinging, and my mind was flooded with self-doubt.
What if things go wrong? Of course, I knew that sharing my plans with my family or friends won’t get me any encouragement. Instead, it might prove to be a dose of fatigue. How will I manage everything my own even if I do this? And many more such complicated problems…
Finally defeating my turmoil, one night before the travel, I booked my tickets for a duration of 11 days – to and fro Bangalore to Delhi – unplanned, unbooked and with no clue of “what next?” In the morning, without updating even a single person on this planet, I kick started the trip.
In the queue to board my flight, a woman started a casual conversation. She had travelled to Bangalore a few days back to meet her deceased sister’s child. Her sister had suddenly passed away last year after an impromptu episode of a stomach ache. She was just 35-years-old. “Life is uncertain Boss, live it today”. My inner voice echoed as I noted the first lesson the road offered me.
Feeling insecure and unsafe thanks to all that I had heard about Delhi, I booked a taxi to Kashmiri Gate around 9 p.m. My fellow companion on the double bed sleeper bus seat was an Australian woman. She had been travelling for the past six months covering Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, before she reached India two months ago. Meeting her really given me ‘Glucon-D’ dose of confidence. “Yes, I am doing THE right thing”. Second lesson: until you don’t try, how will you learn and defeat your own fear? One idiotic thing that I had done was to travel with a trolley bag. I made a mental note to travel with only one rucksack and one handy cross bag with high utility necessities that I would frequently need on the way, in the future. Remember this is about you. No one cares even if you enjoy your trip in just two pairs of clothes.
Next day morning, I was in Dehradun. This was the ‘beginning’. I booked a taxi rather than relying on local transport to save time. Sardar uncle, the driver, a nice man, as expected, advised me “You must not travel alone, India is not safe”. I realised that it’s a good idea to keep talking to locals as it makes you more aware of people’s intentions, local culture, people, food, places and famous sites. It’s a cocktail for the mind “trust him, trust him not”, either way, you need to use your own intuitions.
In Dehradun, I liked Robber’s Cave – A river, only reaching your knee, flowing through the caves and rocks. I also visited the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun. I had never imagined that the world had such a tremendous varieties of plants, and the tremendous utilities they serve and the extensive care they need. Next day morning I had to leave for Mussoorie, but unfortunately, I lost my bag pack with all the expensive things I had stuffed in it along with the money, as the bus I had boarded to reach my destination left me behind while I ate my breakfast. However, after 10 minutes, a guy appeared with my bag and returned it to me (nothing missing). Surprised and stunned, I thanked him before he walked away with a blank face. I reiterated ‘generally, mountain people are trustworthy.’
Mussoorie had nothing to visit, apart from the library and the market and I will suggest that if you wish to shop then, Dehradun is a cheaper option with more variety. Late evening, by 9.30 p.m., I had reached Rishikesh. It was the day of Maha Shivratri and also the International World Yoga day. Rishikesh was clearly overbooked. I had spent almost two hours in a frantic search for a room and finally got one at 11.45 in the night. This one did not have a window and no ventilation, but at least I had a place to sleep. Rishikesh is a magnet for seekers of spirituality with about 70-80% of the traveller population made of foreigners. It is also known as the “Yoga Capital of the World” with an entourage of ashrams and people stretched out in all kinds of poses next to the banks of the fast flowing Ganga. Sitting a cemented staircase on the banks of Ganga (ghat), my mind and soul were filled with peace and contentment. Lodging and food are cheap here and available 24×7. Talking with fellow travellers, I realised everyone has a unique life with their own sufferings and experiences and that we live with the illusion that God is not fair to us alone.
Next day morning it was water rafting time for me. It cost me Rs. 600 for a three hour and 16 km stretch and the experience was simply amazing. We even tumbled along the violent flow of the Ganga. If you want, you can choose among the 29 km, 60 km and 90 km stretches as well. Mid-way one can even splash into the water where the flow is still.
Next day in Rishikesh I had a lifetime experience; even as I recall it today, I get goosebumps. It was the day of bungee jumping. It was an 83 meters jump with a bed of rocks and the flowing river below my feet. I was standing on the edge ready to jump. I had three chances to make the most of this. Below my feet was the ‘Death Valley’ and I had to jump into it letting go of all fear. After ten minutes of trying to bust my fear, I finally took a step back and said I can’t do this right now. I had tears in my eyed simply knowing that I had given up on something for the first time in my life. About 20% people give up generally, and I was one of them. I missed out on getting a badge of “got guts”. Fear is your biggest enemy at times.
One night in Rishikesh, I was having food in a restaurant when I met a Jewish lady from Israel who was there for the World Yoga Festival. She was 45-years-old and married to a 60-year-old American. Her husband had adopted an African child when he was just 26-years-old. At the age of 12, his son got addicted to drugs and started hating his adopted father. The boy experienced identity crisis realising that this man is not his actual father. His son was kept in a mental rehabilitation centre since the age of 12 and is now 18 years old. This incident had such an impact on the lady from Israel that she had decided never to adopt a child. Before leaving, she said that she hadn’t seen too many girls travelling alone in India, and thus urged me to “keep this spirit alive.” Then she told me that if I didn’t want kids, I should never force myself.
Next day I was to move from Rishikesh to Chopta via Rudraprayag and Ukhimath. It took me the entire day to reach Chopta. From there we were to trek for some 6-7 km to the Tungnath Peak, which is 4000 meters above sea level. My trip was surprising me quite a bit and everyone I met motivated me. I was welcomed in Chopta by snowfall. The place had no electricity, and there was a serious dearth of water.
Next day morning at about 5 a.m. I had started trekking to the Tungnath Peak, which was approximately five kilometres away from Chopta. A further 1.5 km trek from Tungnath leads one to Chandrashila, which offers a 360° panoramic view of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks including Nanda Devi, Trishul and Chaukhamba. After a 7-hour trek, at about 1.30 p.m. I had reached the top of Chandrashila. The view left me speechless. It was soul soothing and hypnotising with its unmatched beauty.
On the way from Tungnath to Chandrshila, the air had grown thinner, and I could feel the lack of oxygen. There was a 1-2 feet snow cover which made walking somewhat difficult. After every 10-20 steps, I had to stop and breathe. That day only three could trek till Chandrashila, but it was worth reaching the top. While returning, we faced different difficulties which proved to be even worse than climbing; chances of slipping down were higher. One great thing we had done while climbing was leaving footprints which helped guide us back without losing track of the route. By 5.30 p.m. we had returned to Chopta. From there we moved to Ukhimath and again trekked for about 2.5 km to Deoria Tal, reaching the top at 9.30 p.m. and setting up a camp.
This was pretty much the end of my trip. The last day I was left with was spent in Haridwar and from there I returned to Bangalore.
This was not only a trip for me but an amalgamation of many life transforming lessons in a single package. Here are some of the things I realised and hoped to remember forever.
1. Most of the time people are a slave to their own fear of stepping out of their own limitations and comfort zones. Take risks; it’s worth it! You may fail, but you learn.
2. Life is very short. Explore and live it your own way.
3. Masses live on stereotypically, following the same pattern of life – buying a car, bungalow, ‘settling down’ with wife and kids and seeking more money and acquiring more material. Travelling teaches you that there’s more to life. A lot more.