I had spent several months (if not longer) trying to convince my parents to let me travel alone. The idea of packing my bag for a week or two and taking off into uncertainty had enchanted me for as long as I could remember. Of course, I understood their apprehension, but I couldn’t agree with them. An umpteen number of tear-filled wars later, they finally, grudgingly agreed to let me go (I think my sister secretly played a large part in convincing my parents… She’s an angel and my best friend!).
The weekend before my planned departure, I was out, happily shopping for a big backpack and all the necessary stuff (mainly sunscreen and pepper spray). In my head, I had planned an elaborate two-week trip in the mountains generously interspersing lazy days with adrenaline filled activities like rafting and trekking and bungee jumping.
I planned to start with this city called Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. A girlfriend of mine, who had spent 3 weeks traveling alone in that state, gave me some tips and glowing reviews of going without any plans, and I chose to follow her advice and decided to just ‘go with the flow’.
My father suggested stopping for a couple of nights at a little city called Haridwar. Haridwar is on the way to Rishikesh, and is a holy city of supreme importance for us Hindus. Without getting too much into detail, let me just say that it is one of the seven holiest cities for the Hindus because according to Hindu mythology, it is one of the four spots where a few drops of ‘the elixir of Immortality’ spilt while being carried in a pitcher by the celestial bird Garuda (in case anyone is wondering, yes, I copied that part from Wikipedia).
I half-took my father’s advice, and made a reservation at an inexpensive, but seemingly good, hotel for one night. I booked the cheapest bus available (because I’m a dumbass and I forgot that good old saying ‘You get what you pay for’), and , super-excited, embarked on what I thought would be a long-ish, life-changing (atleast I was right about this part) trip.
So, let’s start with the bus. I got into a rickety old bus, empty except two Israeli backpackers. The driver said the bus would go to another location and more people would join us. Okay! We went on to the ‘next location’ which was the Kashmere Gate ISBT, and a whole lot of people did clamber on, and maybe I was just paranoid, but each and every one scared the hell out of me. We stopped at a few more places, the bus getting fuller and fuller with these creepy-ish people, and finally, the bus that was supposed to leave Delhi at 9pm started on its way after 1am.
Frankly, I was terrified all night. I clutched my rucksack, stared out the window and tried not to cry. I didn’t dare sleep. There was a hugely painful lump in my throat and the bus was terribly uncomfortable (I will NEVER travel using City Heart Travels again… 4 bad experiences are ENOUGH!!).
The bus was supposed to go all the way to Dehradun via Haridwar. The next morning, when we reached Haridwar around 5, the bus refused to go any further. What?! Well… I didn’t want to get pulled into any scuffles (I could hear a painful voice protesting that he had to be in Dehradun for his brother’s funeral) so I took an auto and set off for the hotel.
Of course, the auto ride was terrifying as well. It was barely twilight, and I was in a completely unknown place. I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. 40 minutes later, I walked into the hotel (hugely relieved), checked in, went up to my room and fell asleep. I woke up around noon, and decided to go ‘touristing’.
Now… As I mentioned before, Haridwar is a ‘holy city’. I had been there twice before, but once was at night for a few hours with friends, and another was for a few hours in the evening with my family. I am… Vaguely spiritual, yes, but spending a whole day in a holy city is NOT my cup of tea.
I know a lot of people who are totally charmed by the place, and maybe I can even understand why… But for me, the thought of visiting temple after temple, and knowing that I was still many hours away from nightfall (and the only thing I could do to kill time was visit MORE temples) was torture.
After having seen a few of the famous temples, and after walking along the banks of the Ganga, around Har ki Pauri, it was around 4pm that I decided I didn’t care if I missed the Ganga Aarti and I went straight back to the hotel. A friend of mine had suggested visiting Shanti Kunj, and I got off there on the way. I entered the gate and saw the ‘No Shoes’ sign. I don’t think I’ve ever fled a place faster than that (another holy place?? NOOOOOOOO!!).
Back at the hotel way too early (atleast the hotel was good), I settled down with a couple of books (I finally managed to finish Yann Martel’s ‘The Life of Pi’ and got started on Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’), and decided enough was enough.
Maybe it wasn’t so steadfast of me, but I decided to go back home the next day. A call to my family later, I was convinced I had made the right choice. I booked a seat on the earliest bus back the next day, and went down for dinner,
Dinner was a lovely affair. Super cheap, as most things in India are, and super, duper delicious. I was one of the only ones in the dining room at that time, so I got epic treatment, with constant attention, which was not intrusive, but was wonderfully prompt. The food was fresh and piping hot. And it was a pretty marvelous end to an otherwise shitty day.
The next morning, I was actually refreshed and optimistic enough to go to my next destination, Rishikesh. And I really regretted having booked the bus home (and paying in advance). I called my family again, and they said to consider this trip a teaser 🙂 and I could make longer, better trips in the future keeping in mind all that I had learnt on this little one day trip. (Lesson no One and Only: NEVER USE CITY HEART TRAVELS!!!- I don’t even care if they want to sue me for defamation)
The bus was supposed to be at 9… The hotel reception called me up several times and told me it was delayed… Finally it was going to leave at 12.30pm. By now I had a sneaky suspicion that it was the infamous City Heart Travels again! I reached the bus JUST in time, but I wanted to buy some famous delicacies to take home with me. The bus driver said to hurry up cause it had to leave. I literally RAN to the nearest shop (even though I heard a really good one was a mere ten minute walk away) and back. The bus eventually left wayyy after 2. City Heart Travels… Tadaaa!!
Anyway… What did I learn on this trip? (Other than the whole City Heart Travels is a bitch situation)
I like to think of myself as very independent. Not individualistic, just independent. I really like spending time by myself. But on this trip, albeit extremely short, I felt really lonely. I don’t know why. At that time I came up with these tag-lines like ‘You should know how to be alone, but you should never have to BE alone’. And I agreed whole-heartedly with my friend who said ‘Solitude is over-rated’. Now I don’t really understand, or remember, why I felt that way. I spend a LOT of time alone, here in Milan, back home in Delhi, and definitely with all the new solo-traveling I’ve been doing. Movies, restaurants, random walks, sightseeing… Nothing fazes me.
Maybe I was just not ready at that time.
I can blame my Dad for suggesting that place to me (thank GOD I didn’t straightaway book for 2 nights!!), but that would be really wrong. He tried to tell me something he liked, and thought I would too. Pity I didn’t. Again, I feel I was just not in the state of mind to go to a place like Haridwar and enjoy it, at that time.
Maybe if I go there now, it would be a different story altogether. Maybe I’ll have better things to say. Or maybe the horrible bus journey had just got me started on a really low note… 😛
(On the plus side of me coming back early, though… I developed an enormous sty in my eye within a day or two of coming back. It took forever to subside. If I had carried on with the trip, I would have had to do so with super discomfort. So maybe it was good that I came back early :D)