Growing up in India, especially in 12 different cities of India by the age of 17! I hated traveling or moving, maybe I hated moving towards uncertainties after leaving everything known to me in the last city. My neighborhood, school, friends, their friends, small hideouts, and whatnot! It sounds like a dream life, but it was not exactly that. While growing up I never imagined the life I am living now, the life of traveling and exploring the world, making friends for every corner of this planet, understanding the global values of humanity, etc. Our life while growing up in India of the 90s and early 2000s was like any other developing country. Traveling was all about either going to the native village in the summer holiday, where even toilets were an open field and one needs to manage with one bottle of water in the middle of nowhere or going to one specific pilgrimage with family. Never heard of going to a specif holiday with family or anything closely related to that. Solo travel, backpacking, gap year, trekking, volunteering, or literally words around that were not part of my dictionary or future vision. Anyways, I can write another blog on how I grew up but that’s a completely different topic and today I want to write about my first solo trip and the courage I needed for that because of growing up in a certain kind of environment, where I never imagined anything like that.
So, let’s fly straight to June 2015! The last year was a roller coaster ride of my life. I took a lot of hard decisions in my life, from not committing suicide out of depression exactly a year ago to moving out of the home. Not knowing what I really want to do in my life, but being aware that what I don’t want to do in my life. And here comes June 2015, after reading a lot about traveling, finding life through traveling, reading a lot of travel writers and bloggers in the last one year I decided that I will also explore and travel solo. Although the same year, I traveled almost everywhere in 06 months, explored more of India and it’s culture, started a travel startup, from the caves of Ajanta and Ellora (another blog on that soon) to paragliding in the Himalayas. It was a fascinating year, but always with friends and people around me. Never tried this alien word, solo travel. Honestly, it was fucking hard to even think about going out in the world alone, or to go somewhere without another main reason associated with the approval of society! Doing something without any reason sounded crazy but isn’t life is all about not trying to find reasons all the time, and go with the flow. But who goes that deep in life and that too about traveling.
Anyways, I made a detailed plan of starting from Delhi, going to Vrindavan, Orchha, Khajuraho, and end up in Varanasi over a spiritual note. Used my laptop and google map in the best way I can. Designed this for me even without knowing that this is a famous route for a lot of travelers and operators (shows my intuitive skill of designing itineraries 😉 I decided to be on this around my birthday and have a soulful experience. That year I already bought my first backpack, for my trip to Ajanta and Ellora. So, I started packing my backpack again for this journey, along with my camera and whatever I needed. Just to tell, I was planning this trip with almost no money or over a literal shoestring budget.
13th June 2016, I still remember the day. Believe me, it was hard to step out of my room in Delhi. I never did anything like this in my life ever. Going somewhere on my own, alone, solo, and being aware that more or less my plans were not fixed. As well as, it was soaring summers of North India and the sun was behaving crazy like a lot of my friends. They were not able to understand why he needs to go alone, maybe he can ask us. And I just wanted to win over this big fear of mine. Actually all that was quite spiritual as well because life is also about gaining the courage to travel solo. A lot of thoughts were striking my head for sure. No tickets, no hotels, no booking, I was not even sure that where I will stay that night and I think all these uncertainties make traveling interesting. That we need not be certain about everything in life.
I started from my hostel in Laxminagar, east Delhi to the bus stand of Sarai Kale Khan. The first destination was Vrindavan, in India we grow up listening to the stories of Krishna and Vrindavan that how this whole area used to be a big forest (Hindi word for that is Van) and Krishna use to come here along with his friends and love Radha from their respective villages and have some comfortable time far from families. Anyways, I reached the bus stand and was looking for the cheapest bus to Vrindavan. It was 09.00 am in the morning and I found one easily. The bus soon started moving towards the south and like any other crowded Indian bus people were still able to fit in after every stoppage of 30 minutes. My thoughts move the most when I am in a moving vehicle like bus or train, and sometimes I receive the best thoughts and obviously I was full of ideas with this trip. After almost 03 hours the bus stopped somewhere on the highway and they asked me to get off and take this straight road to Vrindavan which was another 05km from there. I found an auto-rickshaw (kind of tuk-tuk) which took me to the small town for 10 rupees. Coincidentally, it was a Saturday and not that good day to be in Vrindavan. You know why? As I told you that we use to go to some specific pilgrimage, Vrindavan was something similar for a lot of families of Delhi and nearby cities. There weekend religious gateway. Where they can go, book all the hotels, guest houses, and eat, pray, love over the weekend. It is a kind of guilt-free holiday which Indian families are taking for generations. And I found myself in the middle of that! Being on a small budget, I was not able to find any guest house, hotel for cheap, and the rest was out of my budget. Soon, I realized that I may need to sleep near the river or maybe somewhere near the street. As these Delhi weekenders left nothing for me.
New in town, aware of nothing, first time traveling solo, and this fucking honking by all these Delhi cars. Why can’t they just park outside and walk in this spiritual town, why they need to get these cars in this 5000-year-old town of narrow lanes? I was literally cursing myself and them both. Maybe I was hungry as well, so I found myself a small decent eating corner and ate as much as I was able to. If I am not wrong that helped me a lot to think straight. The kid, who was serving food told me to go into any ancient guest house and just ask for a plain, simple mattress on the floor and you will get one with a small locker to put your stuff as well. So, another search started after that and I found one soon, who gave me exactly that for less than 100 rupees for a night. After putting my bag in the locker and taking a shower in the common washroom area, I was ready to explore the town. Which was sadly overcrowded that day with spiritual weekenders honking with their cars in the whole town.
Some small lanes took me inside the old ancient areas of the town, small sweet shops, lassi shops, eateries, temples, and whatnot. It is said that just in this one small town there are more than 30,000 statues of Krishna in praying condition. I found some priests who wanted to take me around in different temples and tell me the stories, but it took me a while to finally believe a boy of almost my age to show me around in those lanes. Also, experienced for the first time in life that how monkeys are trading things with people for food! That was super strange. Anyways, that boy showed me some temples, gardens, market area and took me to the main temple of the town, Banke Bihari Temple. Some families from Delhi, that day made arrangements to decorate the temple with white flowers, and honestly, it was a magical experience. To see the faith of the people, and how much they believe in God. Although all was kind of still cursing all of them for honking too much, and trying to find peace over here. The kid left me after earning his 100 rupees and certainly hunting new clients for the day, as I was not shopping with him and he was missing on all the commissions. Vrindavan is also a spiritual shopping destination for Delhi people!
I started walking towards rivers the Yamuna, also known as the daughter of Sun and sister of God of Death, Yamraj, and also half wive of Krishna. So, many complicated relations to learn to be honest. A dark river, black in color, and filled with untreated sewage of Delhi and suburban cities. Literally carrying the sins of humans like the daughter of God. I was sitting alone and a boy came and sat next to me, after a while, he was not able to believe that I am traveling alone and even by the time he left he thought that my friends must be somewhere nearby. Anyways, I got to know that he was also looking for a client to show around the temple town, and I was already useless for him. But certainly, he got something from me, a lesson that there is something known as traveling solo. I can never understand how people who literally grow up in these spiritual towns are so far from the spiritual concept of solo traveling and exploring more about ourselves.
Again I saw people doing aarti (fire ritual) of river Yamuna. Most of these people or to be honest everyone I think was from Delhi. Again, I was just angry and furious, that how people from Delhi including myself have the courage to come here and to the ritual where literally their shit is floating in the same water right in front of their eyes. Heights of hypocrisy! But that is how it is happening for centuries. The rich businessman from different cities in India come here to do the rituals, decorate the temples, construct non-profit guest houses to decrease their guilt consciousness. After the ritual, I started walking back towards my non-profit guest house, had a really small portion of dinner, and slept on the mattress over the floor, honestly, it was comfortable for me.
The next day I checked out from that place, the idea was to explore the nearby villages associated with the stories of Krishna, and again I was not sure where I will sleep that night. The date was 14th June 2015 and fortunately, I saw almost all Delhi vehicles driving back. I thought to explore the ISKCON temple but was not allowed inside because of my bag, so I asked the guard where can I keep it, do you have any locker room, and instead of giving any clue he just asked me to leave. I was standing outside and the same guy came to me after 05 minutes saying that he can keep my bag for some money which I thought is kind of bribe, this furious Himanshu became too furious and I left the place, thinking that even in this holy town things like this is happening. Anyways, I visited another big white temple nearby known as Prem Mandir and started planning to leave the town. What bad can happen after all this? Literally heavy rain, I somehow found shelter in a broken roadside shop saved myself. Bad experience at the temple, rain, and standing alone under a broken shop and don’t know where to go next. I was kind of scared to take the next step. I started walking toward the same highway. An auto stopped by me and asked me where I wanna go, I said the name of the village and guess what he was going there and to the next village as well. There was a family already in the back seat and they reserved the auto for the full day for those local villages. After exploring two villages, we started driving towards the third one. Where I finally took the drop and the rest of the people headed back to Vrindavan.
So, in the third village, the idea was to go for a holy walk barefoot for 21km, in Hindi known as parikrama (kind of circular walk) around a small hill, Goverdhan. Which is said that was lifted by Krishna over his one small finger to save people of his and nearby village from floods. Interesting story for sure! I found myself again a floor mattress in a non-profit 200-year-old guest house for 70 rupees. The day was almost over and I decided to start my walk after sunset. It was 07 pm and I started the walk, starting point not being very far from my place. To make life more difficult I decided to do it barefoot! As if I already didn’t face a lot in the last two days. The walk was really interesting though, it gave me a lot of solo time, with an active brain and walking feet. Hundreds of people were also there, walking along with me on that holy walking path, with reciting the name of God, asking for wishes, having a fun time with family, sipping chai with friends at one of the several stalls of the walking way. The path was properly lit and not that bad for walking. Honestly, 21 km walking is a lot when someone is not that physically active. After a few km, I was taking rest but was completely fine till 12 km. The main challenge was next 09 km, somehow I made it with one step at a time, some chai and with a lot of thoughts of my brain. Everyone was with family, friends, or bigger families, and I was literally the only one alone. By 12 in the midnight, I took some rest, washed my dirty feet, and realized that I am not able to stand up again because of the pain. Somehow after 30 minutes of self leg massage, I was able to stand up and started walking slowly again. By 02 am in the morning, in the mode of not being able to feel my leg, I was standing in front of my guest house. Washed my dirty feet again and when I slept because of being tired I don’t remember.
15th June 2015
The pain was still there when I woke up and I was not sure what to do next. A friend from nearby village somehow got to know that I was nearby (most probably from a Facebook friend is nearby location thing). Thankfully, he called me up to check if it is true, as I said yes that I am nearby. So, he came to pick me up by 11 am and took me to his village. There I received the best leg massage and great food for lunch. He came like a God in my life, and his family members were the sweetest kind of people I met on that trip. But being a religious solo traveler I wanted to move on over my trip to the next destination and they wanted me to stay with them at least for that say. Somehow I convinced my friend and he dropped to the bus stand near the highway by evening for the next city Mathura. Another friend was waiting there for me and I was going to stay with him before heading to the next city on my trip.
I was meeting this school friend after several years, now he was a professor in a nearby university and I was still looking for the meaning of life, and what to do. Anyways, it was nice catching up with him after so long. He was living with some friends and we had a small celebration that night as it was his flatmates birthday. We went out for dinner, and maybe a bit of dancing but enough to get my pain in the leg back. Somehow we came back home and my friend promised me to show me a few things in the city the next day.
16th June 2015
Again I woke up with pain in the leg and more severe this time. By the way, it was my birthday and I wanted to not to concentrate on this pain anymore. The temperature made that day one of the hottest in the year, if I am not wrong it was around 42 degrees celsius. The wind was also conspiring with the sun to kill us and I also didn’t want to miss anything in the city, especially the birthplace of Krishna. Which was said to be a prison, as he was born in a prison but now a massive temple. It was a nice visit to the temple and also saw the mosque constructed next to the temple by Moguls but the pain and heat that day almost killed me.
The uncertainty of being alone after this, Delhi still not being too far from me, being alone again in the rest of the trip, and pain in the legs made me take a decision. That I am going back to Delhi and going ahead on this trip in this heat and pain. I asked my friend to drop me to Mathura bus stand from where I took the bus back to Delhi, heat still was at it’s best while going back. I almost cried on my way back, everything I did, all the uncertainties I faced, few people I met, few things I hated, few things I loved, and everything came in my mind. A small trip but gave me a lot of courage and helped me with more decisions in the future.
Friends and my sister planned a small get together at my small and humble place when they got to know that I am back for my birthday of course and not any victory. Although surviving this pain, heat, and rain under a broken shop was also a victory for me.
That first solo trip was not something really amazing, but it was a humble start and maybe this is what we all need in our life, a humble start. We need not know that we exactly want in life but sometimes it is enough to know that what we don’t want. So, go on a solo trip, start with a small one and you will never be the same person again.