I decided on A 'Solo Group' Trip To Himachal as my first holiday alone
I was running around the office asking if anyone had a book I could borrow for a few days. I was going on a trip – one that involved a lot of travel and would need more than just my music to keep me company. No, I wasn't going on a solo trip. The opposite actually. I needed the book to shield me, as the journey I was going to embark on was with a whole bunch of strangers. I needed a book to bury myself in, in case I didn’t like the people I met or just in case I was not in the mood to be friendly.
This kind of trip was a first for me and I arrived at it after several travel plans with friends fizzled out due to dates, money and other such issues. I’ve been dying to go on a solo trip but I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it simply because I thought it a) may not be safe b) what if I got bored with only my company to rely on. I stumbled upon a Facebook page at just the time when I was giving up on my friends and deciding to take the solo plunge. The page was about a guy who organizes trips, all year round, that anyone can sign up for. I looked at some of his upcoming itineraries and felt drawn to one of them.
I'm a really moody person and privacy is paramount at all times. Even when I’m with friends. I asked myself – do I really want to go on a trip with people I don’t know? Am I going to have fun? Will I enjoy the forced socialization such a trip will impose? What if I don’t find my type of people?
But what if I did!
With trip leader Captain Nero, bottom left corner
I called the trip organizer and told him straight up about my apprehensions. I asked him a series of absurd questions which in hindsight I am sure he was used to. Half convinced by his assurance to make me have a good time, I signed up for it without over-thinking anymore. I felt this was the perfect prelude to a solo trip as this was exactly in between traveling alone and traveling with friends.
I signed up for a six day visit to Himachal Pradesh. I took a flight to Delhi and met the gang. I put my most approachable, friendly face on and set out. Many ice-breaking sessions later, thanks to long bus journeys, and the human need to stop for food and nature's call on the way, I was talking to almost everyone. Trust me when I say this: we experienced every road trip cliché on the way - tyre punctures, breakdowns, everything. At one point all the men on the trip got off to push the van to get it started!
I haven't explored north India enough and I chose to go to Himachal because I had been planning Kasol for a long time. I couldn't have chosen a better time of the year. The weather was a fresh change from Mumbai's unauthentic winter. Okay, let's be real. It was so cold that I was always wrapped in my woolens, head to toe. Friends from the trip would probably not recognise me if they saw me now, minus the layers.
Our digs in Manali
We stayed in a beautiful property in Raison for two nights. It was an apple orchard surrounded by hills, with a river flowing nearby. The hosts were sweet and hospitable, the wooden cottages comfortable, the food amazing and the ambience was exactly what you needed on a trip to the hills – calm, peaceful and serene. They also had five dogs, all friendly and adorable. We explored Manali for the next two days and spent the nights with more ice-breaking sessions and playing games that brought people closer and tightened bonds.
Group pics outside our cottage at the Orchard
The lot of us from Mumbai especially, were on the trip to see snow and it was disappointing as it evaded us initially. The rest of our days were spent in and around Kasol, Manikaran, Malana and Tosh. We trekked up to the Malana village and partied the night away. The next day however, had a surprise for us in the form of snow and I couldn't contain my excitement. It was my first snow experience. We headed on a snow trek up the Kutla pass with only sheep and dogs for company, and a breathtaking view surrounding us. I will never forget the vegetable Maggi noodles I had atop this pass. It was, by far, the most delicious Maggi I've ever had.
Snow-icing on the cake
Although I considered myself more a beach and water person, I developed a new found love for the hills after this trip. There's just something about the mountains. It's a great setting to lose yourself in your thoughts. And maybe lose your way too.
During the six days, I visited temples and Gurudwaras, sat by many water streams and rocks, went up and down many hills, played with snow and walked through bustling markets and roads. I probably would have had fun doing all of this alone. I definitely would have had fun doing all of this with friends or family. But the kind of fun I had doing this with a set of people I was still getting to know, was a unique experience. Some of the conversations I had are still fresh in my memory.
I love mementos – little things that act as bookmarks for the trips I've been on. I didn't bring any from this trip, just newly formed friendships. I now talk to them on a regular basis.
My takeaway from the trip was all that I discovered about myself. I am no longer apprehensive about traveling solo, or with people I don't know. Stepping out of my comfort zone opened me up to a wealth of experience, not just externally through the course of my interactions or in the activities I indulged in, but even internally in terms of understanding my strengths and limitations.
Strong bonds were made (Manikaran). Picture courtesy: Vineeta Mishra
Also I didn’t need to be going through something terrible, or be fresh out of a break up in order to set out on such trips. I didn’t need to head out with the forced goal of 'self-discovery' either. That’s something that will happen organically if it has to. Not everyone who sets out solo or with strangers is hurting or looking to get laid or find themselves. It can simply be about doing something you haven't done before and experiencing the excitement of the unknown.
On this trip I struck a fine balance between zoning out to be by myself in a crowd, as well as gelling with company in its most valuable measure. How else do you think I could have come back with a treasure trove of friends? I hope this is motivation enough for people reading to try something like this. You might luck out like I did.
PS: I didn’t end up reading a single page from the book I took with me.
101 Himachal Semi-Solo Trip:
1. Go online to find trips tailor-made for you.
2. If you’re planning a trip there in winter, make sure to trek the hills.
3. Carry food for a feast atop the hills.
4. Carry comfortable clothes and shoes.
5. Inform the organisers of allergies / ailments if any.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Remya Philip
Cover photo credit: Prachi Gupta