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Traveling Alone in India: Am I Crazy?

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As I awake from my slumber and look out the bus window, I’m transported back into a dream. Clusters of pine trees arise from amid the clouds and reach out to the Himachal sky. I instinctively turn left, but there isn’t anyone to soak in that view with. In my long battle with my parents on traveling alone, I forgot to think it might be intimidating. And intimidating it is.

I immediately look back at my a-second-ago-dreamland, only to feel a desperate moment of anxiety. My mind is retrieving everything that’s been planted in it about a girl traveling by herself in India. Putting my sweaty palms together, I’m almost tempted to pray that the bus doesn’t break down, that I don’t get stuck in the dark on this isolated road, that no one tries to rob me of my insignificant belongings, that I don’t get kidnapped, murdered, raped, killed…

A 20-hour journey to Spiti awaits me, through dirt roads and landslide-prone zones. Where’s the romance in traveling alone, I wonder.

We stop at a roadside Dhaba to grab a bite. I get off, determined to make small talk with the first approachable person I see. I spot a victim, a young girl who seems to be by herself too. I take my food and sit opposite her, forgiving myself for the desperate attempt. We eat in silence for half the meal, and I abruptly break it asking her if she’s going to Spiti. Half way, she replies, and my small talk instantly becomes a full-fledged conversation. By the time we’re back on the bus, I’ve regained my confidence to enjoy the breathtaking views again. I had forgotten how easy it was to make friends, especially in India, where everyone has a story to tell and a million questions to ask of you.

Through my days in Spiti, I meet people from all parts of India and the world. Some become acquaintances, some friends and some close friends. I meet people who marvel at the notion of me traveling alone, primarily Indian families. I meet people who’ve come in search of life’s answers, found some in the mighty Himalayas, but mostly left realizing that the answers are really the folks they love back home. Some nights, I stay up thinking about my own folks…

I learn to hitch-hike up mountain roads. I learn about Syrian music, Israeli food and books from Europe. I hear tales of social good from Denmark, Auroville and Gujarat. I meet a Belgian couple who cycled all the way from Belgium to Southeast Asia, took a flight from Singapore to Kerala, and cycled up into Nepal; they’ve been on the road for 2 years, 4 months, and Ladakh is their destination next. I share life stories with strangers, and dreams with people I may never see again.

key monastery, spiti valley, india, offbeat travel, himachal pradesh, solo travel, traveling alone

I discover the romance in solo travel. I wouldn’t do it any other way, in India.

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58 Comments Post a comment
  1. what an adventure! What is that place in your last picture?

    July 13, 2011
  2. It was indeed :) The last picture is a hike to Key monastery, perched atop a hill in the distance. It’s located in the Key village of Spiti valley in India. A must, must visit :)

    July 13, 2011
  3. This is seriously a trip/journey of a life time. You are fortunate to be able to travel as the way you are as not everyone gets the chance. Admittedly, not everyone has enough courage to be able to take on a adventure especially on their own, against all the odds. However, reading about your adventure it just makes me feel as if I am able to bring into vision your experience.

    I hope to one day, plan an adventure to South Asia and travel freely. I’m somewhat planning this now but not sure when it will become possible.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    July 13, 2011
    • I’m glad you could experience it with me, at least virtually :) And you’re so right, I consider myself very lucky for the option & courage to travel. It teaches you so much more than anything else in life.

      I hope your South Asia trip materializes sooner than later. It’s a beautiful place to visit, especially the Himalayas. Let me know if you need help with planning or any recommendations :) Its volume of places to visit can be intimidating.

      July 13, 2011
  4. Well written mam!!!!

    July 13, 2011
    • Thanks Gaurav :) and welcome to The Shooting Star!

      July 13, 2011
  5. manchitra #

    Shivya,
    I think you are on a travel spree. Interesting travelogues.

    July 13, 2011
    • Chitra, I just got back to work from 2 months on the road. The 2 months flew by, and the days are crawling now. Such is life! Thanks for reading, as always :)

      July 13, 2011
  6. Wow, looks like you had quite an adventure.. :) here’s to more travels..

    July 13, 2011
    • Thanks Aarti, I did indeed :) Welcome to The Shooting Star & hope you continue to join me virtually on my journeys!

      July 13, 2011
  7. Woohooo…Someday(pretty soon) I am going to hit the road, just like that :D

    July 14, 2011
  8. And you’re going to love it, just like that :D

    July 14, 2011
  9. hey,

    u r nt crazy..just have the guts to travel solo.go girl..thanks for the inspiration..i would start putting my solo travel proposal before my family..wish me luck..

    July 19, 2011
    • Good luck Gautami! Let me know if you need any tips & tricks. I’ve learnt plenty by now ;)

      July 21, 2011
      • ohh ofcourse shivya. my first task is to convince my mom..and thats the toughest part..

        July 21, 2011
  10. There is a certain romance to solo travel. You just have to work a little bit more to find it. I think starting conversations with people is key. I interviewed by hotel owner for a story while traveling alone in Ireland and it was an interview I know I won’t forget. There are so many stories out there to discover about people and I think solo travel opens you up to them even more than traveling with someone.

    July 20, 2011
    • So true, Suzy. It takes time, yes, but once you discover the romance, you just can’t do it any other way. I read a solo travel post on your blog, about walking alone into an Irish bar and ordering beer, and that was my trigger to just do this fearlessly. Thanks for being that inspiration :)

      July 21, 2011
  11. Great, great post. I am just wrapping up my time here in Nicaragua. Having come here alone, I too discovered adventures and make friends with people that I hope to see again some day. I was a little freaked out before I left, but now in the end, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

    July 21, 2011
    • Oh wow, that’s great Claire! Nicaragua must’ve been a rather interesting experience :) I’m glad we both manage to discover the charm in solo travel. Cheers to us!

      July 21, 2011
  12. You have gone places girl and I admire you for that, in all my 34 years I havent met anyone as gutsy as you, why even me would hardly dare to travel alone to offbeat places. Admire your passion for travelling and seeing that nothing stops you from enjoying yourself.

    And I am proud you are Indian :)

    July 23, 2011
    • Thanks Austin :) It definitely took guts to do it alone, but India is such a beautiful place, how can you not? Hope you dare to do it soon too, with your long break coming up. The anxiety is so worth the thrill.

      July 23, 2011
  13. Audrey #

    Sounds beautiful! I love that people who have been on the road for a while are so open to sharing their stories and talking to strangers. There’s something special about the bonds you make while travelling. I think that is what draws me to travel :D

    July 27, 2011
    • You’re so right Audrey, I think it’s what draws me to travel too. It’s amazing how we start with fears & intimidations, lose them along the way, and come back a person full of stories & friendships.

      September 20, 2011
  14. If you’re crazy, so am I! I have traveled for more than a year altogether in India, by myself. Loved every moment :)

    Mariellen
    AKA Breathedreamgo

    July 28, 2011
    • Wow, that’s amazing Mariellen! It must have been a lovely experience. I shall read all about it on your blog & look forward to connecting with you more on the blogosphere :)

      September 20, 2011
  15. sincere appreciation to your courageous step of knocking down the mundane way of traveling…. a free spirit you are…

    Keep traveling and Keep posting
    Vishnu

    October 29, 2011
    • Thanks Vishnu :) Hope to do more of it!

      November 2, 2011
  16. I must say that more i read you,more i become determined and inclined towards travelling!!You are truly an inspiration Shivya! :)

    June 25, 2012
  17. Jaya Joshi #

    There’s so much joy in travelling that there’s abundant of it for people who are travelling in company or solo. I live and earn to travel and it’s not something that I want to do but need to do or else I become a wreck. And because it is such a high priority need, I tend to do most of my travelling alone. Like you, I’ve been able to soak in the experience, at times with heightened intensity, when I travel alone. Nothing limits me and the singleness and detachedness allows me to find new people and reaching out to strangers, finding out about their lives and making new friends.

    But in 2007, an extremely unfortunate occurred in Munsyari, where my own driver crept in to my room and tried to attack me. I too was staying in the Dak Bungalow. Luckily, I survived, didn’t get killed, but was badly hurt. But more than getting physically hurt, I was traumatised for almost a year and a half. Fear is unreasonable and I was scared of a lot of things that kept building up in my head. And the first thing that hit me, after the incident, was the thought that I may never be able to travel alone again. And that thought was so depressing that it continued to make me sick in the stomach every time it came. It has taken me time to overcome my fears (not all, but a lot of them), but I have managed and I’m working on others. And this has happened mostly because I could not imagine a life without travelling.

    So when I read the headline of your article, I was hoping to find some new tips and things to keep in mind, especially for a single female traveller not only in India but also overseas. And though reading your experiences have been delightful, I could not come across any suggestions. Though I’m still a firm devotee of solo travelling, after that horrible incident, I feel it’s important to ensure safety without overdoing it and becoming paranoid. Will you have any thoughts on this?

    September 20, 2012
    • Heart-wrenching to hear your story, Jaya. I must say that you are very, very brave for keeping alive the love of travel, in your mind.

      My only suggestion would be that you slowly try to get back on your feet. Instead of going solo, go with a friend or join a group trip, and try to venture out for a day trip by yourself. Keep a pepper spray with you, as a confidence booster. Try to take a trip to another country, maybe like Singapore, where you’ll surely feel much safer than here in India. But don’t try to push yourself too hard. Stay in your comfort zone until you really feel you are ready to get out of it again.

      All the best and hope to meet you on the road sometime. Be safe and keep in touch.

      September 20, 2012
  18. Abhishek #

    Wow what an inspiration! I have travelled europe alone but I couldn’t think of a place I would want to visit alone back home in India. I was planning to go somewhere this weekend for a week or so..spiti seems like a good idea. Do you have any other recommendations? From delhi

    October 24, 2012
  19. Reblogged this on Subbublogs's Blog.

    December 20, 2012
  20. Murthy #

    Hi Shivya
    Greetings from Malaysia
    It takes great courage and determination to travel solo for being a girl.Wow! What an inspiration to solo travellers out there!Well I am also a solo traveller and had travelled quite a bit.I will be flying into Delhi on 8th Aug. 2013 and planning to go to Kashmir and Ladakh and will be flying out of Leh on 23rd Aug 2013.I need some help from you regarding this trip.I intend to do a circuit, visiting interesting places and ending up at Leh on the final leg.Please keep in touch with me via email.Thanks.

    January 13, 2013
  21. We should go on a girls trip sometime :)

    I have travelled most of the Europe alone and would certainly like to do so in India.

    So do you take tours or plan everything by yourself ?

    January 17, 2013
    • :) I prefer to plan by myself. Not a fan of group tours!

      January 18, 2013
  22. Its good to see you have the courage to travel alone. In my case I badly need the company of my best mates.

    Keep traveling, keep updating. :)

    January 17, 2013
    • Try a solo trip sometime, even if just for a weekend. It changes the way you think about so many things, yourself included :)

      January 18, 2013
  23. anishajayadevan #

    Lovely post. I still can’t find it in me to travel solo in India. Getting the parents to agree will make it easier.
    Which was the organization that you volunteered with?

    January 17, 2013
    • I know what you mean. But I’ve realized that convincing yourself that you want to and have the courage to do it makes it easier to convince parents.

      I volunteered with Ecosphere in Spiti.

      January 18, 2013
  24. Dency #

    The last picture looks similar to a place I visited sometime back. Diskit Monastery. Kashmir.
    Another awesome must visit place in India.
    Ladhak, Pangong and most importantly Turtuk.

    April 30, 2013
    • I haven’t been to Ladakh or Kashmir yet, and can’t wait. Hopefully this summer! Thanks for the suggestions, Dency :)

      May 1, 2013
  25. ahhh.. I want to do this someday! :)

    July 18, 2013
  26. hlo shivya thanks for travelling solo ,at least you prove it that india is safe for travelling,just for some few rotten eggs weare getting a bad name .also if in near future if you are travelling solo to any hill station speacially the north do let me know.

    August 26, 2013
  27. Sonam #

    Hi Shivya,
    Lovely to read about your travels,have never travelled alone and have only travelled in groups-the single girls ones…wanted to travel alone this december for a short trip and enjoy new years eve all by myself…any suggestions for any place in India ? Let me know,
    Thanks
    cheers

    November 18, 2013
  28. Pankaj Kataria #

    My brother has just embarked alone on a backpack trip to Himachal for 5-6 days. Being his elder brother and far away from him concerns me and a seach on how many people go backpacking alone in the Himachal brought me to this blog. I am still finding the answer to my question: Is it sane to travel alone, not for somebody might harm you, but just the mental attitude. Guess he needs some alone time in the hills.

    June 18, 2014
  29. Kabir #

    Hi Shivya, I want to congratulate you for ur will power and self determination.
    u r so right, its so common to hear from people in India who just cant accept the idea of traveling alone.
    However, I would certainly like to know that the solo or alone trips you have written about in ur blogs, are the ones u have taken because u just wanted to see and explore it all for urself, or were they part of ur job commitments as u mentioned
    I ask this because sometimes people relate solo travel to job commitments only and doubt people’s real intentions to travel solo on their own just because people believe traveling solo means an anti-social behaviour!

    August 8, 2014

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