Solo Travel - What did I Find On This Path To Self-Discovery


Tonight, I am in the happiest place of my life, and also at the airport with a flight delayed by over 2 hours. But I do not experience a spec of restlessness, just peace; smiling at everyone I see. And no, I am not in love again; or maybe I am.

Exactly 3 weeks ago, I was sitting in a room very far away from everything and everyone, in the pit of a deep dark hole that is depression. Everyone has their own way of describing it; I call it futurelessness; the absence of any possibility of a tomorrow inside your head. All your dreams, on love, on career, on family, on travel, on pleasure flee that space between your eyes and mind; a space where they used to so serenely glide around every night and a lot of days. You defy all rules of gravity, become so unbelievably heavy that nothing in the world will be able to pick you up and enable you to walk. I sat in that room alone. Oh! And how alone I felt. For about two weeks after that day; that day when I wanted to sleep and not wake up, I was so terrified of being alone, that if someone would leave the room to take a call, I would panic.

And filmy as this universe is; I ended up leaving it all back and starting alone, exactly 2 dark weeks later.

Alone – I was it, exactly the situation I dreaded more than my own demise.

I was never a religious person, only one that would rationalize every act of faith and explain its psychological implications, feeling smart. And exactly today 3 weeks ago, all possible reason, faith, hope and optimism had deserted me.

But now I know there is god in everything we touch and see and sense, everything, ugly or beautiful. I spent two weeks devoid of any belief; I just spent it in the present, too scared to venture into the ugly, horrendous territory called future or the past. And then god came to me in the simplest of ways – a book. Clichéd it may be, I began Eat, Pray, Love and by the time I was mid-way, I was so awestruck by the similarity in the story line and my own life. I cried and smiled and jumped around as I read something I felt exactly as it was described. I wanted to hug the author and tell her I am so grateful.

On Friday, something happened, and I call it nothing short of a miracle, however much you may laugh it off as melodrama. I logged onto IRCTC, somehow found me a train to Mumbai for Monday that had 283 seats available at this short a notice, and booked a single ticket. I don’t know why or how. And I sincerely promise this is in no way an exaggeration.

From being terrified of being alone for even 5 minutes, I went to booking a ticket for a journey to somewhere alone, without a return ticket or a plan whatsoever. And I will stubbornly call it nothing short of godly intervention, even if I sometimes believe there is no such thing.

And from the day I left home to board the train to this very moment, at the airport, I have experienced it again and again. The infinite moments of pure satisfaction, the million smiles I smiled at myself, the sights my eyes saw, the words I heard and the thank yous’ I have said; yes, nothing short of bliss.

That friend who let me stay at his place, without too many words, or pretenses of being kind; that friend’s roommate who would tolerate my endless questions on what to see and how to get there; oh yes I had started alone, only that I wasn’t; couldn’t possibly be. An auto wallah who out of the queue found me another auto wallah who would take me to the destination without me having asked him to. A waiter at a café wanting to click a picture for me and with me because he thought I am some sort of a solo traveller writer. The artists at the art gallery who handed me cards and invites because they thought I was artsy. The auto wallah who insisted on me getting off and walking through the traffic so I wouldn’t miss the bus even if it meant lesser fare for him. The person at the counter of the Museum in Mumbai who recognised me, smiled so wide and hastened my ticket when I came the next day to watch the show I had missed a day ago. The taxi driver who gave me a quick brief on the things I may have missed even after travelling to Mumbai four times. The guy in the bus who watched me with concern as I cried through a horrible swing of the much dreaded PMS. The weird lady who brought a cat in the bus who would cry beside me at a sad scene in “Heyy Baby” and look at me and smile as if I understand. The sales man at the Linking road flee market who wouldn’t give me a discount but would adoringly demand a thank you. The sales man at Kolaba who would give me a big discount because I said I ve come from very far off. The waiters at Leopold who would give me special attention, not letting me serve my food myself once, running after me as I walked off forgetting my phone. The friend who would act impossible but then take me to one of the best places in the city to eat and then sit through a torturous session of an SRK fan sitting outside Mannat. The same friend who took me out again the next day to places even better than before and make me painfully regret not staying the weekend. The numerous friends in Mumbai who let me know they wanted to meet, but couldn’t, the friends I would be meeting the next time I come running to this city I adore. The friend who made me download snapchat and click embarrassing selfies several times a day. This friend who wouldn’t forget me and wouldn’t let me forget him, just because I am really far away. The friend who would message me from back home and tell me the week’s dull without me. The friend who not only let me crash at his place, but also without any flourish paid for all the dinners and fares whenever we went out because he wanted me to save for my travel. The adorable little girlfriend who told me how proud she is of me and tell me I am fine.

That Labrador Zizu, in that little café who welcomed me as I walked in with so much fondness, and then sat my me the whole time; it felt like I knew him from before. The people I passed by on the numerous streets I walked, smiling so wide at a stranger.

The cute guy at the Prithvi Theatre who wanted to genuinely know what I thought about the play, indulged in a long discussion opening apart a wonderful analysis of it and then invited me over to a party. I had to decline but it left me with an excellent feel-good every girl experiences when a really nice guy hits on them.

The wonderful couple who not only let me stay at their place in a  whole new city, but also followed up with me on an hourly basis, confirming I am safe and comfortable. The people who took it on themselves to ensure I enjoy my first trip to the city. That old friend who smiled so wide and warm when he saw me, telling me how great it is to see me so far from home. This friend who sacrificed the few hours of sleep after not having slept for days, just so he can show me around the campus. This friend who was so happy to have me know everything about the place and meet everyone new he knew. This friend who wouldn’t leave me alone of uncomfortable for a minute. This friend who introduced me to the best library I have seen till date. This friend who trusts my abilities more than I do, and motivated me to achieve what he thinks I can. This friend who invited me over to party with his friends and celebrate the end of his exams. This friend whom I met miles away from where our homes are and made me feel so completely happy.

The friend I hadn’t met in over a year with whom I had the best ever visit to the Golconda, walking up the 360 (I bet there were more) stairs to the beautiful view of the city. This friend I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable with; we just started from where we left off and caught up with each others life so very smoothly. The two new guys who were so much fun to hang out with. These three guys who stood with me for so long waiting for my cab to arrive.

The auto wallah who insisted on me clicking pictures of everything in the city that caught my attention even if it meant him standing by listening to the traffic from behind cursing at him. This same guy who wouldn’t let me go to the pan shop because there were too many shady men there, who walked out to do my work without even being asked. This guy who gave me a whole history of Hyderabad the city so proudly.  He insisted on me buying the right things from Karachi Bakery and Paradise after taking me to the very original ones in the city without charging me extra money. This auto wallah who was so fascinated by the fact that I was travelling alone. The staff at the café by the Charminar who made people adjust and move around so I could have a table promptly. The security guard at the Sallar Jung museum who kept ensuring I click pictures of the top attractions so enthusiastically.

This guide at the Charminar who, first explained why it was closed and then gave me a verbal tour map of all the places I must see and in what order and at what time, really without being asked, for free. This cab driver who drove me to the airport so super fast because he saw me get all hassled over the delay.

The mother who called me everyday, lovingly chiding me for being away, but never hindering any real travel, because she knows how much I love it. The father who so lovingly told me that he would celebrate a birthday if I were here, and asked me when will I be back with so much affection that I had to book a flight and run home the same day. The grandmother and grandfather who would ask me when would I come home everytime I would talk to them. The friend who would send me lists of things to do in Mumbai because she shares the same love for the place as I do. The friends who told me they miss me, and are waiting for me to be back so we can party. This girl from my college I didn’t know so well, who would ping me randomly just to check on me, make sure I am fine. This lovely couple who would drag me out to ice cream ensuring I do not stay home PMSing and sulking, and the ice cream worked. This friend who without hesitation agreed to pick me up in the middle of the night and drop me to my home so far off from his own so I can be safe and surprise my dad on his birthday. This friend whom when I texted and told of my return told me she is so happy. This guy who suffered through my miserable nonsense and still called several times everyday to share our lives and days. This same guy who let me use his miles with zero hesitation when I finally got homesick and wanted to return. This friend who checked on me and ensured I am taking my meds on time. The friend who spoke to me regularly in the middle of his own hectic exams and listened to me so intently.

I met so many people on this journey I thought I was going on alone. I just couldn’t be alone. I met people I will never see again, people I hope to spend the coming few years of my life, friends I will lose touch with and friends I will share my life with until one of us leaves. I met strangers that will remain strangers and strangers who are friends now.

And I met someone else too. Someone who will not for one second leave me alone. Someone who will walk hand in hand with me, share my bliss, and experience my pain exactly in the intensity I do, tell me to go to sleep when my eyes are tired with the crying, guide me through dilemmas, and talk to me when no one is around; I met someone who will breathe with me until I will have breathed the last breath of my life and then she will leave the world with me, hand in hand still. I met myself, and I will never be alone again, nowhere at all.

Someone somewhere embraced me with so much love, and handed me my faith back in my hands while smiling warm at me, and while I had once been frightened of everything, I embraced my faith back, smiling.

I close this as my ultra delayed flight finally is starting to take off. And I am thinking; if I could find this much security, love, affection, kindness and respect within the span of a week, in two cities, how massive would be the happiness that is still left to experience in the life yet to come and the places yet to see. And although there is never a happy ever after, and I won’t promise you or myself one, I know one thing for sure. I am not scared anymore.