“Railway Stations can be very overwhelming. Filled with hordes of unknown people and chatter, hustle –bustle, trains steaming in with constant announcements in the background. I stood there with a huge rucksack and pink bag and for the first time it sunk in that I would be taking this journey alone. Though the country was my own, but the region was something I was blissfully unware of. Did I do the right thing, should I have taken another train that would reach a bit early? I am taking a lot of risk, is it safe, should I just go back? 1 min and 3 deep breaths later, I was ready to take on this journey which would be one of its kind and definitely a first”
Almost 4 months back, I took a solo trip across Rajasthan and covered Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Puskhar. It was one of the most memorable trip and definitely very close to my heart. After the trip, I wished to chronicle my journey but just couldn’t get to penning it all down, there is just so much to tell! Instead I made a photoblog –rajasthanchronicles.wordpress.com
Anyway so I thought instead of writing a Rajasthan Saga, which looked liked a gargantuan task, why not break it into smaller blogposts. I would also be peppering it with some tips for solo women travelers, obviously backed and based on my experiences.
Now let’s get to where I started. The quote in the beginning of the blog post is a page from my little diary.
I sat in Ranthambore Express from Jaipur en route to Jodhpur and was quick enough to find my seat. I settled down and was very excited to embark on this journey. After sometime I started scribbling thoughts in my little diary. I could feel someone watching me and peeping in my diary. When I looked up, I was greeted by a young fellow smiling ear to ear. Gosh I did not even realize that someone had come, and was sitting next to me. “Tahseen be more vigilant of your surroundings, don’t be so lost” scolded a voice inside me. I smiled a little and nodded. In return, flurry of questions followed – You writing? What are you writing? I love writing. You going to Jodhpur? Are you a traveler?
I am usually a very chatty person but at that juncture I just wanted to write my thoughts down and be alone. But my super chatty co passenger, Viraj did not quite let me succeed. I also obliged him with my monosyllabic answers. He seemed like a nice guy and did not want to be rude but at the same time did not want to divulge in too many details, for he was still a stranger.
During our journey, he told me that he is a musician and is studying in Jodhpur and told me about his band. He made me listen to a couple of songs that their band had produced and also shared their struggle story. Why is he being so over friendly, cautioned my brain….he is just overly talkative I reasoned, nothing more.
I put on my headphones and again started writing, subtly dropping a hint. I did succeed for 15 mins and again he started talking. I just put my diary aside and gave in to the conversation. He seemed nice and very excited to share his work. He also told me that he is going to Jodhpur to meet his elder sister to celebrate her anniversary and that his Jiju(sister’s husband) is coming to pick him up from the station. I did not know if he was lying or telling the truth, I barely knew him for a few hours to trust him. But it did not matter to me anyway I thought.
I looked at my watch it was past 8:45PM. Shoot! The train was supposed to reach at 8:30PM!! I asked the ticket collector if the train was running late and he said the train will only reach around 10-10:15 PM. This cant be happening. The golden rule of solo travel is to arrive at a place before 8:30 PM in the night. Of course I remembered it, of course I knew I was cutting it too close, when I booked the train tickets. Of course many people said that Jodhpur is very safe, but how safe is it to travel late in night in an unknown city geographically placed in the “Northern” part of India. How could I not consider the buffer, how could I be so stupid. Just to save a day, I risked reaching Jodhpur in the night. Now is the time to pay for the risk.
Thanks to my expressive face, Viraj inquired if I was OK. “You don’t know this train is always late, hota hai” I did not really pay heed and my mind started drifting to the time when I would come out of the railway station………I am going to be mobbed by a swarm of rickshaw drivers waiting for their savari ”Madam kahan Jana hai” (where do you want to go)“Madam mere saath chalao” (come with me) “Madam hotel book kiya hai” (have you booked a hotel) ..This would just be the beginning, how could I trust that autowala and since it was night, how many people would be on the road to even help me.
While my mind was buzzing with these thoughts, my forehead was now lined with super tiny droplets of water.Calm down, I told myself and think of Plan B. Eureka!! I had a plan. I asked Viraj to accompany me to auto rickshaw stand and lied to him that my friend who was going to pick me up couldn’t make it. I got good vibes from this guy and I could at least trust him till I got rickshaw. I also logically reasoned that during the journey he did receive 2 calls from his mom and was talking about his sister. So I don’t think he is lying, I convinced my mind, that had long gone on an overdrive mode.
He quickly offered that his Jiju can drop me to my hotel. I politely refused and asked him to just accompany me till the rickshaw.
Finally at 10:20 I reached Jodhpur and came out of the station. The station looked nice with a huge dummy train outside. I must take a picture for my blog (whenever I write it, that is) Are you f*cking serious? scolded my brain, just get to your hotel quickly. But then, panic aside, ofcourse I took a pic :)
After that at the rickshaw stand, everything that I had imagined happened in the same order. I was mobbed by rickshaw guys but it did not get that worse. I also saw a Santro with Viraj’s Jiju and he again offered me a ride. Meanwhile I got a call from Aniruddh, the guy who I was coordinating my stay at the bagpackers hotel. Before booking the train ticket, I did speak with him and asked about how safe it is to travel in the night. He seemed very helpful. He chalked out my itinerary and was a very well spoken. He had asked me to give him a call when I reached Jodhpur and he would then speak to auto driver, to give him directions. Given the situation I was in, I had conveniently forgotten to call him.
Anirudh said that he was near the railway station only and can pick me up.
I am not very proud of my decision making skills and usually deliberate a lot. But at that time, I had to make a quick decision- Auto, Viraj, Anirudh. All 3 were complete strangers and the safety barometer did not really help. I went with my gut feeling and gave my location to Anirudh.
My copassenger was polite enough to wait until Anirudh came. It took a while for him to spot me but after I told him that look for a girl with a neon pink bag, he found me in less than 2. I thanked Viraj and I left with Anirudh.
You all wished the story ended here isn’t it :) Please hang in, there’s more
Not really reasoning my decision which I had just taken (because it absolutely had no logic), I followed Anirudh.
We get in front of a white Honda Civic with blaring Punjabi music. When I got in, there were 2 more guys in the car .I was like phaaaaaaaaaaaacccccccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk can I just go back and take an auto. I don’t know which one was safer. He introduced me to those guys and he said that they stay in the same hostel. I sat behind with my huge backpack between me and the other guy. I was shitting bricks and cursing myself here to trust my stupid guts. I also racked my head to remember where I kept chilli powder, yes that was my “defense mechanism” . I did look for pepper spray in Pune but gave up after looking in one medical shop. I glanced at the guys and they looked tall and pretty healthy, no way can I take on these 3 guys together, I thought.
For the one last time, I ordered myself to calm down and allay the fears (although in all fairness I did not have any reason to!) Then instead of talking to myself, I started talking to those guys in the car. Once they started talking about RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) and music, I was enthusiastically chipping in the conversation and was listening to their experiences. Was chirpily talking, until the car halted.
I looked around and saw a golf course on my right. GULP!
And then on my left was my hotel :)
Ladies, I hope you got the moral of the story
Always trust your gut, listen to your inner voice.
No doubt, this is an universal mantra, but it works very well when you are travelling solo. Travelling alone is fun and gives ample chance to talk to people, hear their stories and feel connected. Don’t be uptight and not talk to locals. Be vigilant and do not ignore your hunch and your gut feel.
The trip was first published on https://thewanderingkaleidoscope.wordpress.com/.