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