I was a travel virgin before travelling solo to Kasol in Himachal

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Everybody needs a reason to travel solo. I, too, had mine. I am a Delhiite who had never ventured outside the city for studies or even for a job prior to my maiden visit to Kasol.

However, while surfing through a social networking site, I once encountered a friend’s picture that showed him on a river side with a beautiful view of hills in the background. I got so thrilled by the view that I desired to have an encounter with the scenery first hand.

This place was Kasol.

A few days later, I went to Paharganj (a popular flea market in New Delhi), bought a knapsack and started packing for a trip to Kasol a day later.

I had never booked a ticket be it of a bus, or train or plane. So, travelling and before that, making arrangements for it, was an unexplored territory for me. Thanks to some technical glitches, I failed to book a ticket on the Himachal Tourism website, so I went to the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal), looked for the window of Himachal Transport Corporation for a “ticket to Kasol”.

“Just one ticket!?!” wondered the man behind the window at the oddity of request.

I just smiled, exhibiting a sense of conviction adulterated with a fleck of trepidation. With the ticket tightly clasped in my hand, I reminded myself of the grandma’s preaching (taught to me nearly 20 years ago) of holding your possession (such as cash and ticket) tightly when you are going far off.

As I never travelled far off anywhere, so her teaching was never put to practice.

It might be quite normal and stimulating for the hundreds of thousands of solo travelers but experiencing it first hand, that too for the first time, has some unique experiences that can neither be felt in someone else’s blogpost nor can be anticipated before the sojourn.

So, my sojourn began that day around 8 pm. As I sat in the Volvo bus of Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation at one of the back seats, a young man from Nagaland (who would turn out to be my companion for next 12 hours) sitting next to me asked inquisitively, “Travelling alone? Won’t you get bored?”

Though he, too, was alone but he was going on a business trip and would alight enroute to Himachal. When I tried to put up a brave front and said, “Yes I wanted to spend some time with myself?” He got even more surprised, rolled his eyes, and looked at me with a broad smirk and remarked rhetorically, “Okay!”

However, he turned out to be very considerate, and gave me good company and even his jacket (without my asking for it) for some time as the weather turned chilly as the bus climbed uphill in the mountains. All in all, he didn’t let me feel that I was alone, at least till the time he got down around 100 kms ahead of Himachal.

But I was travelling solo and I had to accept it sooner than later. As I reached Bhuntar, I had to take another bus to be able to reach Kasol. This bus was rickety and worse than the Volvo that ferried me to Bhuntar. This one shook me every two seconds as it snaked its way along the treacherous path of Himalayas on its way to the valley of Kasol.

Next morning around 8 am, I reached Kasol. The early morning sunlight, buzzing market and taste of little success of reaching the destination without any unpleasant incident made me feel upbeat.

It was the time to loosen my fist that carried the ticket. Grandma’s discourse came ‘handy’ for me. I wanted to hang around for a couple of hours so as to be able to check into a hotel around noon to circumvent double charging there. As I was a virgin traveler, I didn’t know that most hotels are pragmatic enough to allow entry a few hours prior to noon as long as the rooms are unoccupied.

However, it was the time to showcase my “bag-packerness” (a word that I invented soon after losing my travel virginity) with a huge knapsack hanging on my shoulders while I moved around Kasol looking around with wide eyes scouting for exotic views, unique eateries or shops or some unprecedented experiences.

I sat down at a roadside eatery to stretch my limbs and to down a cup of coffee.

After breakfast, I found a decent hotel – Sun ‘n’ Wind -- on Manikaran road. This was located bang opposite to a star hotel where I desired to stay. As the star hotel charges almost four times of what this budget hotel charges, I decided to put up at the latter.

The first floor room had a balcony that faced the main road. In one day, I walked around the market, travelled by local bus to Manikaran temple-cum-gurdwara, trekked the hills, sat at the riverside and explored some nice restaurants and cafes.

During night time, when the power went off and all the rooms got steeped in darkness while the hotel located across the road continued to stay well-lit, I discerned the difference between the two hotels. However, getting access to only the 'power back-up' for four times the tariff was probably little too much for my comfort.

While managing my fear and battling with my phobia for darkness, I stayed put there and waited for the power supply to resume, which, much to my comfort, happened in no time.

As I lost my travel virginity with these encounters, what really struck me was that everywhere, the tourists hung around in groups – small or large, or at least in a pair. But nowhere, yes simply nowhere, there was a solo traveler, or at least I didn’t find one.

I DID feel out of place. Some were travelling with office colleagues; some were having a fun time with their college buddies while others soaked in merry-making with their loved ones.

But barring me, there was no one travelling solo.

Everyone says; travel solo and on coming back, a lot of people share experiences on blogs, travel magazines, portals and social media. But where on earth are those solo travelers! This is what I was asking myself again and again.

I asked this at Manikaran temple where I saw boiling hot water in the lap of snow-capped mountains. I asked the same question to myself in the local bus that took me to Manikaran temple and back. I wondered at the same phenomenon while I was at the famous Israeli restaurant where I dined. I asked this at Jim Morrison café, that was located 200 meters above the hill. I asked this while I trekked and I asked this while I binged on scrumptious falafel at Evergreen café.

Travelling solo is not fun, at least not all the time and not for everyone. I don’t imply that none can enjoy travelling solo. Some may savour it, but it’s always a good idea to travel with some one.

There are people who are alone and they don’t have anyone to join them for a trip to hills. Such people should not refrain from travelling only because they are alone. Besides them, there are some people who are almost always surrounded by too many friends and acquaintances, so much so that they might want some time off, alone to some far off place to recharge their energies.

But for most other people, travelling solo may not be a very good idea.