Backpacking Through North India-5: Kasol

After a hiatus of more than 3 years, I finally got the time to resume my travels. Last 3 years have been really hectic on a personal and professional front and I’m glad that phase is over and I can get back to living my life. Regardless, I just returned from a small but cosmopolitan Himalayan village as a part of a long planned and well deserved break from life and the rest of the world, and I couldn’t be happier to write about it on the blog.

Kasol, when you hear the name, what comes to your mind? Hills, treks, Israeli people, Mediterranean food? Or something notorious that region is known for? Well, a disclaimer; my intention to head there was not for that *something notorious*, but to soak in the cosmopolitan, hippie vibe of the place, to meet some Israelis and most importantly to try their amazing bland/non-spicy food.

Oh wait, I didn’t explain the Israeli connection of Kasol. Situated in the Parvati Valley, the small village of Kasol is the hotspot for Israelis-young and old-in India. Many young Israeli men and women come to Kasol to relax after their mandatory conscription (the cost of carving out a country in the Middle-East surrounded by hostile neighbors). Some like it so much that they find the place like home and end up staying there for a long term; whereas some seasoned travelers spend their 6 months of summer in Kasol after living and working in Israel for the previous 6, thus living on saved money, and they repeat the cycle. It’s all a game of exchange rates. Some Israelis I spoke with said that it’s cheaper to vacation in Kasol than to live in Israel; in effect they save money while vacationing. Now who wouldn’t like that!

Throughout the town, even the signs on the streets are plastered in Hebrew, and at some places, solely in Hebrew.

So, nestled in the heart of the Parvati Valley, to reach Kasol is a task in itself. No direct buses head there from Delhi and one has to get down at a bigger town and catch the local bus to Kasol. It’s that remote.
In the Parvati Valley, apart from Kasol lie some other villages such as Manikaran, Malana, Grahan etc. and breathtaking treks, such as ones to Malana, Chalal, Rashol etc. I didn’t go to all of them as the plan was to relax in this break but I’ll definitely cover the entire valley when I go there next, which could be pretty soon considering that I have moved to Delhi now. Yes, my Bombay days are over. I’m a Delhite now. More on that some other time.
The months of April-October are the right time to go to Kasol if you want to avoid the snow and the extremely chilly weather (though I would advise to visit in the months outside of the above-mentioned window just to enjoy the snow), yet the summer of Kasol is like the winter in the planes; the temperature dipped to 3 degrees one night while I was there. Though it doesn’t snow in Kasol in summer, yet you can see the snow covered peaks of the Sar Pass which are at a higher altitude from the valley.

To get to Kasol, you have to take a bus from Delhi to Bhuntar. Bhuntar is on the Kullu/Manali route so any bus that’ll be going to either of these places will drop you at Bhuntar. As during my last time backpacking in McLeodganj, I again took a Himachal Road Transport bus from Kashmere Gate ISBT in the evening, and after about 14 hours, I was in Bhuntar. The bus navigates through Haryana and Chandigarh before it enters Himachal and the landscape starts changing beautifully from the plains to the mountains. The cities covered on the way include Sonipat, Panipat, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Ambala and Chandigarh. On the way there are loads of roadside Dhabas serving scrumptious Punjabi food in quantities fit for a king. But then, when around Punjab, you have to eat like a Punjabi.

The outline of the mountains early in the morning from the bus while on the way to Bhuntar.

From Bhuntar one heads to the local bus stop to catch another bus to Kasol. That is the prettiest road to navigate through with the Parvati river flowing with fervor in the valley down below to your left and thick Deodar forests on the mountain to your right. This being a local bus is also frequented by the local Himachali village people, who I maintain, are the sweetest people I’ve observed in this country; so polite, so courteous, and so welcoming towards the travelers. Wherever I’ve met them, in the town, on the hikes in the woods, on the road, they’ve all been genuinely friendly.

The main street of Kasol. Yes, that’s how tiny this village is. So tiny that there’s just one ATM which caters to all the locals and travelers, and which is usually out of money (thanks demonetization) or out of power.

I had booked a hostel for my 8 day stop but due to its renovation, they shifted us to a hotel nearby, sadly I missed out on meeting more travelers on the trip, however I was rewarded with wonderful views of the valley and the night sky from the rooftop of the hotel; and when it rained there, the clouds literally descended on earth. Rains also bought along with them chilly evenings and nights. Imagine the Indian summer during May, and you’re at a place where sometimes the temperature dips to as low as 3 degrees during the night. Delightful!


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The closest treks to Kasol are the ones to the villages of Grahan and Thunja. Located around 9 kms uphill, the twin villages are accessible only through a trek via the Deodar forests replete – all uphill – with difficult terrain, and with wild animals like bears and leopards. What’s more? During the winters, they’re not accessible at all because of the snow. Yet there are people who live there, and many make the trip to Kasol and back couple of times a week for supplies and trade.
So it goes this way. The trek I made for leisure and adventure, they have to make it out of necessity multiple times a week. And it’s not an easy trek at all. It might be just 9 kms, but leading to the difficult path, it easily takes 4-5 hours to get there, and the path is so narrow at some places that only one person can walk through it, else there’s the valley on the other side where you can slip in. I feel privileged AF!

Met this young family on the trek to Thunja who gave me some insights about the life in the village.

Nevertheless, the path is beautiful. Almost throughout the trek you hear the gushing sound of the Grahan river (which eventually merges with the Parvati in Kasol) flowing down in the valley as your music. Here are some beautiful images from the trek.








You also encounter the Grahan river on the trek. As it flows directly from the glacier, continuously in the summer because of the melting snow, it has got the clearest water you’d have ever seen in your life. At some places where the depth is low, you might feel like drinking the cold water; and that’s what I did. Filled it up in my bottle, and I’m not exaggerating, it was the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted; flowing straight from the Himalayan glaciers.


On a random hike around the town one afternoon, I met a bunch of young Israelis who, like their compatriots, were fresh out of conscription. We got into talking and apparently ended up discussing politics of the Middle East, life in Israel and India travel destinations, and yes, availability of beef in India. Nevertheless they were a really nice bunch of folks, and ended up offering me Israeli coffee prepared from the river water on their mobile stove. And the coffee was not bad at all!

Coming to the food. One of my major motivations to head to Kasol. For a Mediterranean food buff, this place is a heaven in India. You get anything under the Israeli sun in Kasol. Ranging from the basic Falafels and Hummus, to the exotic Sabih and Shakshouka, you get such variety that you won’t even get in a Mediterranean restaurant in Bombay.



Did I mention the dogs? The Mountain dogs, stray or pet, are the friendliest and the calmest of them all. Over a week spent in Kasol and not one dog I found who growled at anyone.
Even when you have food, they just calmly follow you, sometimes for kilometers on a hike in the woods as well. Some may look fierce but pet them and you got their tails wagging.

4 kilometers from Kasol is the village of Manikaran. Known the most for the Sikh Gurudwara, Manikaran also has many hot water springs. In some within the Gurudwara premises, one can take a dip as well. It’s exhilarating to realize that on one side you have the freezing cold water of the Parvati river while on the other, the boiling water of the hot springs. The water is so hot that even the rice for the Langar at the Gurudwara is boiled by dipping the container in the spring. Don’t be surprised while roaming on the streets of the village you see smoke coming out of the corner of the pavement. It’s just nature at work. Oh, and this town has an ATM, so if the one at Kasol is not working, walk 4 kms along the pretty road to Manikaran and get your money.

On my last day at Kasol, while waiting for the bus near the main square, I got to see this traditional Pahari dance called Naati performed by locals for some forest department event. Such a wonderful end to the trip.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m going to retire in the hills? Well, you never know. 🙂

Backpacking Through South India–1: Fort Cochin

…the shutters let in everything else: the dust and the tumult of boats in Cochin harbour, the horns of freighters and tugboat chugs, the fishermen’s dirty jokes and the throb of their jellyfish stings, the sunlight as sharp as a knife, the heat that could choke you like a damp cloth pulled tightly around your head, the calls of floating hawkers, the wafting sadness of the unmarried Jews across the water in Mattancherri, the menace of emerald smugglers, the machinations of business rivals, the growing nervousness of the British colony in Fort Cochin…

If it was Alice Albinia’s Empires of The Indus which compelled me to visit Wagah Border and Amritsar, and Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s A Home In Tibet which fascinated me with Tibet and Tibetans and inspired me to make a trip to McLeodGanj in January, it were these words (and more) by Salman Rushdie with which he dazzlingly paints an articulate verbal sketch of Fort Cochin in ‘A Moor’s Last Sigh’ that made me spend an extended weekend on the island in Kerala.
I had been to Cochin and the cities of Trivandrum and Thrissur as a kid in the late 90s. Of all the places, I had liked Cochin the most, and being there once again after about 15 years was bit exciting. This one was a truly rejuvenating excursion. Nice locals, friendly tourists, beautiful countryside, scrumptious Sea Food and beef (which is so elusive in rest of the country), Kathakali performance, pulling up Chinese fishing nets, a glimpse into the Jewish, Portuguese and Dutch era of Cochin, and most importantly, hitting the beach for the first time after leaving Bombay.

Cochin, the princely state where the Jews from Palestine arrived as early as the 1st century after the destruction of the second temple by the Romans; the city where stands the hollow tomb of Vasco Da Gama – the first European to arrive on Indian soil by sea in 15th century and to make Cochin the centre of Indian spice trade (which assimilated India in the global trade circle and economy), establish the Portuguese empire and spread Christianity, ultimately to be followed by the Dutch who then ceded the control of the territory to the British.
Such exhilarating has been the journey  of Cochin from it being a princely state, to having its control wrenched by multitude of foreign rulers to being a part of the Indian Republic post independence. In short, Cochin has been the epitome of global multiculturalism in ancient India.

The first thing I said to myself the moment I stepped out from the bus at KSRTC Bus Stand in Ernakulam was ’It’s hot here’. Not just hot, it was extremely humid too, which made the impact of the temperature even worse. Rushdie has aptly described this tropical heat in the above paragraph.
I took an autorickshaw cruising through Ernakulam’s commercial district to head to the Jetty to catch a boat to Fort Kochi. There it was, the Arabian Sea in front of me, which I longed to see since I moved out of Bombay – another reason to visit Cochin, to hit the beach.

Amidst a bunch of locals and some backpackers like myself in the ferry, I reached the Fort Cochin island and walked to the dorm which was shared with two Lonely Planet carrying French travellers who had been travelling through the Malabar coast since a week and one Australian. 
After taking a shower for some (temporary) respite from the heat,  I headed out to explore the island on foot. First stop were the Chinese fishing nets. Believed to be introduced by the Chinese, these huge nets require multiple men to operate and at a time, can catch large number of marine creatures, though many are picked up by the birds straight from the net before the catch reaches the fishermen.


Catch of the day, sold just beside the Chinese fishing nets.

After savoring some Sea Food, i.e. post a serving of Prawns, the next stop was Princess Street and the surrounding areas where stand bungalows and buildings of colonial architecture which make it a picturesque sight. If it wasn’t for the tropical heat, it would have been easier to forget that this was India. The buildings here comprise of Homestays, restaurants, antique shops targeting the tourists etc.

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Bungalows turned commercial establishments at Princess Street.


A cozy place by the window at Loafer’s Corner restaurant, perfect spot to watch the life at the Princess Street go by.

Quite close to Princess Street in the Portuguese quarter of the island stands St Francis Church. Vasco Da Gama, who died in Cochin in the 16th century was laid to rest here and 14 years after his death, his remains were shipped to Portugal, but his hollow tomb still stands inside the Church premises.

St. Francis Church (above) and the hollow tomb of Vasco Da Gama.
It is here where Rushdie has portrayed Aurora Da Gama in his book The Moor’s Last Sigh coming to talk to the vacant grave of her ancestor much to the dislike of the priest Oliver D’Aeth (laughed upon as ’All over death’). This part of the book set within the Church was one of my favorite; the way iconoclastic Aurora avows to her family her liking for the Jew -Abraham Zogoiby and marries him, the way she mocks Oliver D’Aeth as he sweats at her sight by comparing him to Bombay’s Flora Fountain and telling her Uncle Aires and Aunt Sahara on how their dog Jaw Jaw Jawaharlal must be dejected as they have come out on a walk with Oliver, a dog with a different collar… (Isn’t Rushdie unbeatable in his wit and humor).
These bits came right at me while being inside the St. Francis Church and I couldn’t help but imagine these fictional characters within the Church premises.


Santa Cruz Basilica

After a brief stop at Santa Cruz Basilica, it was time to head to the Indo-Portuguese Museum. Located in the complex of the Bishop’s House, the museum in its basement encloses the last remains of the Portuguese fort that once stood there, whereas in its upper area one can find various interesting artefacts from the Portuguese era including precious and intricately carved statues, ornaments, copper plates and Bishop’s headgear.


Last remains of the once standing Portuguese Fort on the island.

Walking in the serene streets I reached the Dutch Cemetery by the Fort Cochin Beach, which for obvious reasons was kept locked, but one can look at it and click pictures from the gates.


Quaint streets of the island.

A trip to Kerala without a Kathakali performance is incomplete.  Hence with pre booked ticket, I headed straight to Kerala Kathakali Centre where before the performance, the artists apply the make up too in front of the audience. Kathakali is an intricate dance form which has a story but no speech. All the bits of the story are communicated via the expressions of the performers in gaudy outfits, which were explained to the audience before the show.

The road to Mattancherry from Fort Cochin is dotted with interesting features. Wall graffiti adorning the houses, the sea making its way inland, spice shops and what not. It makes for a gratifying visual treat. After crossing the Dutch Palace, the road gives way to Jew Town which has its own unique air.





Our Lady of Life’s Church in Mattancherri, on the way to Jew Town.

Jew Town, where handful of Cochin’s Jews live today. Jews of the First Diaspora came on this island in 72 CE after their exodus from Palestine by the hands of Romans who destroyed the second temple. They were welcomed into Cochin by the then Rajah. The Jewish community expanded and established multitude of synagogues across Cochin, one of them, 460 year old Pardesi Synagogue still stands tall in Jew Town. After the formation of Israel, the Jews started migrating en masse and today, only a 9 Jews remain in Jew Town.


Jew Street during the early hours before the tourist commotion begins.


Jew Street during the tourist hours.

Jew town, once the bastion of Cochin Jews, today comprises of spice and antique shops-almost all owned by non Jews-targeting tourists. Above the shops are the houses (in the picture above) where the last remaining Jews live. Some elderly Jews can be seen peeping out of the windows, maybe wondering what happened to their quaint little town and reminiscing the old days when the bell on the Synagogue clock would strike every hour and shake up that laidback street-then devoid of hawkers and tourists-out of its slumber, where they would celebrate Hanukkah and Yom Kippur with the entire community and when they had enough people for the Sabbath prayers.

Sarah Cohen, at 90, she is the oldest Jewess living on the island. She runs her quaint little embroidery shop selling Jewish items such as the Kippah, table clothes etc. in the front portion of the house she lives in.  A Malyalam AIR FM station was tuned in on the radio as I entered her store. Sitting by the doorway, Sarah in her orange frock was reading a book in Hebrew (religious texts?). Inside her store, apart from the items for sale, you’ll find many pictures adorning the wall, including hers from her younger days, her staring into the camera from behind a blue door, a black and white group picture of the diaspora, an old gramophone on the cabinet etc. She has seen the island transform in front of her eyes. A part of which she has preserved through the photographs and artefacts in her store. It was a pleasure meeting her.


Sarah Cohen, the oldest living Jew of Jew Town at her embroidery store.


At the end of the Jew street lies the Pardesi Synagogue.

The blue-tiled Cochin synagogue… No two are identical. The tiles from Canton, 12 x 12 approx ‘orted by Ezekiel Rabhi in the year 1100 CE, covered the walls and ceiling of the little synagogue. Legends had begun stick to them. Some said that if you explored for long enough i your own story in one of the blue-and-white squares the pictures on the tiles could change, were changing generation by generation, to tell the story of the Cochin Jews. Still others were convinced that the tiles were prophecies, the keys to whose meanings had been lost with the passing years.

Scene after blue scene passed before her eyes. There were tumultuous marketplaces and crenellated fortress-palaces and fields under cultivation and thieves in jail, there were high, toothy mountains and great fish in the sea. Pleasure gardens were laid out in blue, and blue-bloody battles were grimly fought; blue horsemen pranced beneath lamplit windows and blue-masked ladies swooned in arbours. O, and intrigue of courtiers and dreams of peasants and pigtailed tallymen at their abacuses and poets in their cups. On the walls floor ceiling of the little synagogue.

That’s how Rushdie paints the picture of the synagogue in Moor’s… (apologies for bringing up the reference again, but that book was central to my trip). The tiles in reference are the beautiful hand painted Chinese tiles that adorn the floor of the synagogue, imported by a certain Rabii Ezekiel (from China?). Blue, and though they may seem identical, all are different. After having read so much about them in Moor’s… it was exhilarating walking on them. So much of history below my feet… A look above and one can see the chandeliers and lanterns hanging, and the central segment where the Torah scrolls are placed.

The synagogue is still a functioning place of worship, which is reminded to the visitors by the caretaker asking them to maintain silence as ’it is not a museum’. Talking about museum, the synagogue complex also consists of a gallery depicting the history of Cochin Jews in pictorial format from 72 CE till date.
The lady issuing tickets at the Synagogue is one of the few remaining Jews on the island. I introduced myself as a blogger writing a piece on Fort Cochin and asked her some general questions about the community. One thing that struck was me that they can’t offer the Sabbath prayers as there are not enough people in the community, hence they are able to offer it only when some Jew from outside visits them to add up the number of people to 10, which is the least number required.


The Jewish cemetery.


Spices. It was in lure of these that the Portuguese came to the shores of Cochin. The spices continue to be sold here till date. Mattancherry is replete with such spice and antique shops.

After the Jewish cemetery, it was Dutch Palace on the itinerary, the palace was gifted by the Dutch to the Rajah of Cochin and is now converted to a museum. I didn’t find it interesting. I went in there expecting to get the insights of the Dutch era of Cochin about which not much is written, but instead it was replete with the history of the royal family Travancore.

After another tiring day, it was time to relax a bit by the beach and let the Arabian Sea kiss my feet. It felt good to be by the beach again after I left Bombay. I headed back to the beach again in the night after a dinner of beef fry and sat on the sands till late, listening to the sound of the waves crashing under the starry sky… If only it wasn’t for the mosquitos…


Fort Cochin Beach.

And with that came to an end, the three day long excursion on the shores of the Arabian Sea. A fruitful weekend it turned out to be…

Backpacking Through North India-4: Delhi

After Attari, Amritsar and McLeodGanj, it was time to head back to Bangalore, Delhi was supposed to be the transit point but I decided that as I was going to be in Delhi, why not stay there a day more and visit couple of historical places from the Mughal era (which Delhi has plenty) apart from meeting some friends based in that city.

So in Delhi, I visited Agrasen Ki Baoli, Jama Masjid and the bylanes of Old Delhi which have their own charm. One point I noticed, travelling in Delhi’s metro is no different than Bombay’s local trains in terms of the enormous crowd. Maybe I felt so because I was around Connaught Place during both my days, that being the busiest station of the city.

Agrasen ki Baoli is a historical step well located surprisingly close to Connaught Place and Jantar Mantar, yet unknown to many. Who constructed it? As the name suggests, it was built by Maharaja Agrasen in 14th century. The main feature of this structure is the long flight of steps that lead down to the step well. The steps are flanked on both sides by thick walls with series of arched corridors. The place is also said to be haunted as back in its day, people used to indulge in suicide by jumping in the well. Now, no water remains and what can be found inside the well is litter caused by the visitors and some stones.

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As you enter the structure, you can see the tall commercial buildings of Connaught Place, but as you descend the steps, it vanishes and all you get is silence or echoes and the occasional fluttering of wings of pigeons or residential bats. You can duck through a small opening and go to the actual circular well that was once supposed to be there. If the story of it being haunted is true, then that would be the place where the spirits of the dead roam, if things like spirits exist for that matter.


One can enter the area where the well once stood via this tiny hole in the wall.


This is what lies today in the supposedly haunted well where once there was enough water for people to attempt suicide.


And this is how the sky looks from the bottom of the well.

Next travelling via lifeline of Delhi, i.e. the Metro, I headed to Chawri Bazaar in old Delhi. That busy market is just what I had expected to be like. After having some lip smacking Gol Gappe and savoring some Kebabs (glad I didn’t contract Delhi Belly), I headed on a cycle rickshaw to the magnificent Jama Masjid which is often compared with Lahore’s Badshahi Masjid.


The chaotic streets of Old Delhi. A unique aspect of this part of the town is the cycle rickshaws, a ride on which is a must if you visit these bylanes.


And there you get the first view of the backside of the magnificent mosque. Notice the tangled mesh of electric wires in all the photographs above.

Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque), built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century is the largest mosque in India. The complex encompasses this three domed structure and a vast open compound which can accommodate 25,000 people at a time for prayer. Like in Jama Masjid of Ahmedabad, this mosque also comprises of a pool of water at the center of the complex where Muslim men wash their feet and faces before entering the mosque.


The awe inspiring domes always play a host to the pigeons.


A Muslim man washing his feet at the pool of water at the center of the mosque compound.


This little girl was posing for her mother’s camera.


View from the top of one of the minarets.


The vastness of the compound can be comprehended by this bird’s eye view. Notice the Red Fort in the foggy distant.


The streets of old Delhi look equally chaotic from up above as they feel down there.


Couple of destitute men stealing a nap on the steps leading to the mosque.


A little kid watching keenly what his dad is doing, again, on the steps leading to the mosque.

And with Delhi, my North India backpacking trip came to an end (and so do the posts under this series, as of now). Those nine days which took me across three states and exposed me to multitude of accommodating cultures made me see for myself, the diversity of India. It ended with a meeting with couple of friends with whom I wanted to meet since long at New Delhi’s Khan Market. Taking all the experiences and memories, I headed back to Bangalore the next day with the holiday hangover lingering till some time.

As far as Delhi is concerned, it’s rightly said by a Bollywood lyricist:
Ye Shehar nahi, mehfil hai…

Backpacking Through North India-3: McLeodGanj

After covering Attari and Amritsar, via Delhi I headed to McLeodGanj, aka Little Lhasa of India. It’s called so because this cosy little town on the foothills of Dhauladhar range serves as a home to the exiled Tibetan community. Also the home to His Holiness Dalai Lama, this town houses the Tibetan government in exile. Leading to these facts, McLeodGanj’s and Dalai Lama’s place in Buddhism can be analogized to that of the Vatican and the Pope.

The town has extremely polite and courteous people, friendly monks, breath-taking views, a Buddhist monastery, a Church from the British era and some great food. For the first time in my life I saw a mountainous region replete with snow covered peaks, so the experience was definitely unique, plus this being a comfy little town of genuinely friendly and courteous people made my visit even more memorable. Having lived in cities like Bombay and Bangalore, I had forgotten how genuine can people be, McLeodGanj made me realize that.

McLeodGanj is also thronged by Hippies and backpackers, hence this small town has a unique air to it to help cater to their needs, you get multi cuisine food, ranging from Italian to Mediterranean (and Tibetan), bookstores with unique collections in multitude of languages, coffee shops serving lattes and cappuccinos, and of course, people from various nationalities. I was accompanied by a Chinese couple in the bus which seemed funnily odd considering they were visiting the Little Lhasa whereas they could visit the actual city in occupied Tibet. In short, it won’t be wrong to term McLeodGanj as a global village.

Hippies may come to McLeod to experience the spirituality, but the reason for me to include this town in my itinerary was to experience the Tibetan culture, which lately I’ve been fascinated about. I reached there early on a cold, sunny morning with clear skies (which is unusual in January) in a bus from New Delhi. As soon as you get out of the bus, you’re surrounded by representatives of various hotels around the town. They come down towards the main bus stop every morning and based on their luck they’re able to pick up the tourists. Being January, the tariffs were way cheap it being an off season for tourism. I found my abode for the next couple of days at Hotel Victoria House (yes, I’m naming it for my stay there was extremely comfortable and the lady who takes care of it was very hospitable, plus, you have amazing views of the valley from your window). I then set out to explore the town which is small enough to be covered on foot.


View of the valley from the hotel room. Notice the snow covered peak of the Dhauladhar range in the distant.


A view of the Kangra valley from one of the main streets of the town.


And on the other side of the street, stand the mountains.

Centered around the main square, on about 4 main roads, I’d call them lanes, is what the town is based on. For a moment you can forget that you’re at some place in India. You can’t help but notice the presence of monks and Tibetans everywhere, it’s amusing to see such adorable people walking on the roads. Also the presence of Tibetan symbology, viz. national flags, prayer flags, political messages, Buddhists monasteries dotted along the town etc. can’t be missed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  At the end of the Temple road lies Tsuglakhang Monastery where His Holiness Dalai Lama resides, his residential quarters stand opposite to the Buddhist Temple. Tibetans do clockwise circumambulations called Kora around significant religious places like monasteries, mountains (linked to various deities) etc. while reciting their prayers. Likewise, around the monastery there is a narrow, beautiful path to do the Kora, and luckily not many people are aware about it which helps maintain its sanctity. One gets wonderful views of the valley below at one stretch of the path where one can sit on one of the benches and admire the view below. It’s surreal, snow covered peaks to your left and the valley below you.


Friendly monks at the monastery.


Monks also gleefully oblige to have their pictures clicked with the tourists, like this one above posing for the camera of some tourists.


A stretch of the Kora path around the monastery (above and below).


The view od the valley from the Kora path.

Along the path can also be found Tibetan prayer flags. Tibetans put them high up on the trees and it is believed by them that the prayers written on the flags are blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space.


The path is dotted with Prayer wheels which contain Tibetan Mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hun’ and Tibetans believe that one rotation of the wheel is equivalent to chanting the mantra by the person rotating it and corresponding goodwill is endowed upon that person. One can also find dotted along the path, various temples with giant prayer wheels, one rotation of which rings the bell suspended above.


The mantra ’Om Mani Padme Hun’ written in Tibetan (language).

Next stop was Tibet Museum which is housed within the main gates of the monastery. The museum highlights the atrocities faced by the Tibetans under the Chinese repression since 1949. It contains detailed information on how the Tibetans moved to Dharamsala after the Chinese took over their country and initiated the cultural invasion and how Tibetans indulge in the act of self immolation for protests within Tibet today despite being told not to do so by the Dalai Lama. Also it contains interesting artefacts of the period before the Chinese occupation of Tibet, like old Tibetan currency notes, weapons used by the Khampa tribesmen etc. An interesting feature of the museum is the documentaries they show every afternoon on Tibet. The afternoon I went there, a documentary called ‘Undercover in Tibet’ was on the charts which showed how a young Tibetan in Tibet covertly interacted with Tibetans who told him their plight under the Chinese on camera.

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Blood stained clothes of a Tibetan refugee who escaped the Chinese brutality during the early years of the cultural invasion, at the Tibet Museum.

Later that night I went to watch a movie at McLeodGanj’s only 40 seater movie theater ‘Cinemaa 1’. Located in the basement of one building on the Jogibara Road, movie DVDs are projected on the screen. The weekly timetable can be found on all major points of the town. The variety of movies they play are mix of classics and not so latest Hollywood movies, it’s understood that it takes time to get the DVDs of latest movies up to this town, so it takes about a month or more to get the popular movies to play after the release date. That night, luckily on the schedule was 7 Years in Tibet. I was at a perfect place to watch this movie. Again being the off season, there were only 3 people, including me to watch the movie.


The interiors of Cinemaa1.

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Markets of McLeodGanj are colorful, targeting the tourists, Tibetans have set up stall at almost all the points of the town, selling items ranging from momos to Tibetan woolenwear, Music CDs to Cards and bookmarks containing Dalai Lama quotes.


Bit on the outskirts of the town lies the Church if St. John’s in the Wilderness. It’s the resting place of the second Viceroy of India, Lord Elgin. The Church, situated amidst thick Deodar trees outside the town stands true to its name, in the wilderness. It may look bit spooky from the outside, but it’s beautiful within (sadly photography is not permitted inside). It’s the kind of a place where one can sit for a long time and do nothing but listen to the silence of the forest around.

This town being secluded amidst the mountains offers a spectacular views of the night sky. With little light pollution, the view you get above is literally out of this world. It took me back to my college days in Ahmedabad when I was interested in amateur astronomy and used to study the night sky regularly. Never had I got such a beautiful view of the sky as in McLeodGanj. The sky is lit up with millions of stars, you can’t get this view in any city. I made a point to spend some time on the rooftop of my hotel every night I was there.


On my last day in the town, while strolling around leisurely on the streets, I came across this crowd awaiting someone; I asked and got to know that His Holiness is going to exit the monastery. Now all this time I didn’t even know that Dalai Lama was in McLeodGanj, for it’s unusual of him to be there as he keeps travelling a lot. And boy, how lucky was I. I got to see him up close. Again, perfect time to be at that place. That made my trip worthwhile.

Now coming to the food. During my entire trip, the most delicious (and also the worst) food that I’ve had was in this town. I am writing about it here in detail for I believe that the tale of McLeodGanj’s culinary delights need to be told…
You can’t help but notice that you get Momos, the Tibetan staple, here on the street side. I tried the steamed ones being sold by a lady outside the Monastery and need I mention, they were delicious.


When visiting the monastery, one must relish the delicious authentic steamed momos sold at the gate.

There is a Café called Black Tent that serves some really good Tibetan and American breakfast, nd apparently, the cappuccino they have there is really good. One unique aspect of all the cafes of McLeodGanj is that they are WiFi enabled and you can bring around your laptops, tablets etc. and work/play in the conducive environment.


Omelette served with Tibetan bread and butter at Cafe Black Tent.


The best Cappuccino I have ever had, again at Cafe Black Tent.

Next I tried the famous Wood Fired Pizza at Carpe Diem. The upper level of Carpe Diem is always preferable for one gets amazing views of the mountains and also it allows you to mingle with fellow travellers.


Wood fired Pizza at Carpe Diem.

For desert, there is always ‘Tibet Quality Bakery’ where you get authentic Tibetan bakery items, and yes, Yak Cheese is also available here. I tried the black forest block made from Yak Milk, it started tasting bit funny towards the end, but was worth a try.

Now coming to the worst food of McLeodGanj, funnily I had it at Café Norling which is certified by NDTV GoodTimes’ Highway On My Plate. Hence, by taking the suggestion of Rocky and Mayur, I ordered Thukpa and Fried Chicken and both turned out to be awful, I’m sure Thukpa must be not that bad. Also the fried chicken didn’t even had the skin removed. I tweeted to Rocky and Mayur after coming back to Bangalore and they too agreed that Norling, once a hard working eatery, has grown worse over the years.


Worst food I had at McLeodGanj, at Norling Restaurant. (Below) Rocky and Mayur second my experience.

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This little kid I encountered in the town was named Lhasa. This signifies the nationalism Tibetans harbor for their country.

(Below) Colors of dusk at McLeodGanj.

Anyway, After 3 wonderful days, it was my time to bid goodbye to McLeodGanj, I wish I had planned more days for this town in my itinerary but I didn’t know this town would turn out to be so beyond my expectations. It’s natural to forget that you have to return back in the serene atmosphere of McLeod. With a refreshed mind, I turned towards Delhi, but I didn’t bid bye to this town, for you never bid bye to Dharamsala, you come back…

Now, let me share my two cents on the Tibetan issue. Since the cultural invasion by the Chinese in Tibet, large numbers of Tibetans have thronged to India and Nepal, and India rightfully has given asylum and citizenship to many Tibetans. Tibetans have continued their struggle to return back to Tibet ever since and have setup the government in exile at Dharamsala. Tibetans have suffered many atrocities by the Chinese within their land and hence even today the migration of Tibetans to India continues.

The Chinese have forcefully indulged in the erosion of Tibetan language and culture by changing the official language from Tibetan to Mandarin, and putting restriction on the traditional way of living of rural Tibetans by forcefully shifting them to filthy, congested concrete blocks on the outskirts of the towns from their ancestral grasslands on the pretext of protecting flora and fauna and ecosystem. The Tibetans in cites live under the heavy presence of Chinese police, even at Potala Palace in Lhasa, plain clothed Chinese policemen keep an eye on the monks and tourists alike. Tibetans are not allowed to raise their flag and can be arrested for doing so. Foreign media is virtually banned in Tibet under an unwritten rule. The Chinese have also started migrating in large numbers in Tibet and hence have taken over traditional jobs of the Tibetans. The human rights situation in Tibet is also worse. Many Tibetans also indulge in self-immolation under protest. Gradually demographically, Tibet is turning like America or Australia, where after the influx of the ‘outsiders’ the Red Indians and Aborigines have turned into a minority. But in Tibet’s case, it’s a forced and politically motivated influx, unlike the two examples.
Leading too these reasons, Tibetans don’t promote tourism in their land for they see tourism as promoting the Chinese agenda.

Tibetans today want the Chinese to vacate their country so that they can return back with respect. Now here I am bit confused, the struggle of Tibetans is genuine but sometimes it seems bit unrealistic to me. The Chinese though played the bad boy in 1949 and the following decade but it has helped the region progress economically. Today, in Tibet, almost everything ranging from infrastructure to instant noodle packets comes from China. Economically, Tibet is better off under the Chinese today. I feel Tibetans won’t be able to handle their economy without the Chinese, the country has little natural resources apart from Yak farming and growing turnips; plus, if it ever attains freedom, it will be a theocracy (headed by Dalai Lama) which is not sustainable in todays globalized and interconnected world.
Yes, Tibet functioned before Chinese invasion but it was an isolated land, foreigners were not allowed to enter the ’hermit kingdom’ and the country had little or no connection with outside world. Obviously, this won’t be the country’s model today, still I hope if ever Tibet becomes independent (highly unlikely) Tibetans are efficiently able to manage their country.

And don’t get me wrong, I totally support the Tibetan struggle for independence because for me, human rights comes before anything else, even before a Buddhist theocracy. But the sad part is that no one can help Tibet attain freedom, not even US for fear of souring economic relations with China which is emerging as the economic driver of the region. And China would in no way consider Tibet’s independence as an option, like recently when Barack Obama met Dalai Lama in US, China raised its discontent stating that US should not give Dalai Lama a platform in their territory to engage in anti China separatist activities.

Ending this lengthy post with a brilliant quote by a Tibetan monk: “I miss the spirituality we had before communism, but at least now we have central heating”
Anyway, despite all this I stand for the freedom of Tibet.

FREE TIBET

Backpacking Through North India–2: Amritsar

Getting up early in the cold of Punjabi plains is a pain in the a** task, and my hotel room, I’d call it cubicle, was unusually cold that foggy morning. I managed to take a bath that early and headed out for Jallianwala Bagh, the site of massacre by British General Reginald Dyer of more than a 1000 Indian civilians in 1919 who had gathered at the spot despite the curfew imposed by Dyer. Enraged, Dyer stormed the venue with his troops and started firing on the unarmed and defenseless protestors for 20 minutes, resulting in death of about 1000 people and injury of many more.
The place belonging to a noble from the court of then Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, was bought by the Indian government in 1920, a year after the massacre.


After reading so much about these historic monuments in History textbooks in school, one tends to develop grandiose images of the same, but it’s bit disappointing when they look like ordinary places, like this one above, situated between commercial shops selling pastries and SIM cards. Though it has a well maintained open space inside.
That morning, being the republic day, the air was awash with the sound of patriotic songs (or maybe they play it everyday).


The historic passage from where General Dyer conducted soldiers for firing on the gathering of protesters.


To escape being hurt by the ammunition, people jumped into this well nearby, now known as Martyr’s Well. About 120 dead bodies were recovered from this well.


A look into the death bed of 120 Indians.


The preserved bullet marks, 28 in total, on one of the walls. This can make one realize the veracity of the incident, specially to the people of later generations, as in, it’s not merely mentioned in History textbooks, but this happened for real, people with flesh and blood died in thousands by this brutal act of the Empire.


The monument built in the memory of martyrs. British Prime Minister David Cameron visited it last year and marked that fateful incident as a ’deeply shameful event’ in British history.

The complex also houses a museum which displays news clippings and other artefacts relating to and involving the people in the incident along with a bookshop from where one can buy books pertaining to this subject. It would be of interest to those who want to get into more details of the massacre.

After striking Jallianwala Bagh off my itinerary, I headed to the Golden Temple nearby, which for many is Amritsar’s star attraction. Completed in 1604, the holiest shrine of Sikhs contains Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of Sikhism. The temple attracts millions of visitors every year. But unfortunately the place has seen some bloodshed and bad phases of history. The temple which throughout its history has been attacked by Afghans and the Mughals, was invaded by the Indian army in 1984 by the orders of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during Operation Blue Star. The aim of the operation was to remove Sikh separatists – who want to call for a separate state for Sikhs called Khalistan – who had amassed weapons in the temple complex. Following the strike, the temple grounds were heavily damaged and the death toll was more than 500. The decision to attack the temple proved fatal for Indira who was then murdered by her Sikh bodyguard and this resulted in widespread anti Sikh riots throughout the country, bringing into highlight the vulnerability of India’s religious and ethnic tolerance.
The troubles are left behind and the temple is a peaceful place today and a great spot to visit if one is in Amritsar.


Outside the temple, you get free literature on various topics like Introduction to Sikhism, Sikhism in Politics, Codes and Conventions of Sikhs etc.


As a standard convention in Indian temples, one is supposed to take out one’s shoes. Here they have volunteers to collect the shoes, stack them and return them after the visit to the temple based on the token they provide. Often the volunteers are the elderly; it didn’t feel right to me, handing my shoes to them and they picking it up with their hands. I don’t know but it seemed to me like a disrespect to them by letting them touch my dirty shoes.

Before entering the temple you need to cover your head with a du-rag which is sold outside the temple, even if you don’t have your own, there is a big basket of du-rags outside the temple from where you can pick one up. As you enter the premises, you can see the grand temple in the middle of the ‘pool of nectar’. Before entering the temple, many Sikhs take a dip in the waters of the pool. I saw people even making their infants take a dip in the chilling waters, who naturally were wailing because of this act. Now here I would like to make a comment. I understand that this act has religious significance, but why make the infant suffer by inhumanely dipping him in the cold waters in the middle of January? He’s a baby and he doesn’t understand religion yet. And the cries of the infant do not affect the parents. Indeed, religion makes you oblivious to the reality.


A man selling du-rags outside the Temple.


And there it is, the first view of the shimmering monument in the middle of the ’pool of nectar’.


A little kid posing for his parents‘ camera.


People taking a dip in the chilling waters of the pool in the cold of January.


The water, purified by a plant made in the USA harbors fish, apparently, a lot of them.

I dipped my feet in the pool and after going round the girth of the complex, joined in the queue to head in the temple; being a Sunday, it was a long queue. Another point to note is the temple complex is enveloped in melodious music called ‘Kirtan’. The finesse of the vocals and synchronism of the melody made me think that this was recorded, and boy was I wrong. When I entered the temple, I got to see that it was being performed live by the men within the temple. Inside the temple below the grand chandelier lies the Adi Granth, the Holy Scripture. The interiors of the temple are breathtakingly beautiful, and needless to say, golden.
Another peculiar feature of the temple is the Langar, i.e. common kitchen, where food for thousands of people is prepared and served everyday. This is the peculiar aspect of Sikhism – which I genuinely admire – where irrespective of one’s religion, caste or creed, one is welcome to eat at the Langar. Though I didn’t get time to have food at the temple but it is recommended if one visits the temple.


It looks even beautiful by the night.

Coming to the food of Amritsar; in the Punjabi heartland, you’ll definitely get some delicious Punjabi food. I was seriously craving some after having Dosa, Sambhar et al here in Bangalore. The stuffed bread called Kulcha is Amritsar’s specialty. It is straining on the stomach if had with Lassi (Yes, I learnt my lessons in Amritsar) so proceed with caution if you’re not used to such heavy food. But delicious it is indeed. I had the pleasure to have it twice, in the two days I was there.


A Kulcha being prepared at an eatery near Golden Temple.


Kulchas usually are heavily laden with butter, like this one at Amritsar’s famous, ’Bharawan da Dhaba’.

Next day at 3 in the morning, I got up to catch a train to Delhi, from where I headed up to the mountains, to the next stop in my itinerary – Little Lhasa of India, McLeodGanj in Dharamsala district of Himachal Pradesh. More on that in the next post.… Smile

Backpacking Through North India–1: Attari-Wagah Border

Recently I went backpacking solo up north, here’s part 1 of the series of my travelogue.

Punjab, the land of five rivers. Some of them might have dried up but Punjab still is the most fertile land in India, thanks to the extensive canal network developed by the British. This also made Punjab the bone of contention between India and Pakistan during the partition. You can see the beauty of this land even before you’ve landed. Up from the air, minutes before landing at Amritsar, all I could see was lush green fields till where my eye could reach, the irrigation channels and of course, the distant snow-capped mountains of the Himalayan range. That’s how Punjab makes you fall in love with it at the first sight. Amidst colorful turbans and a sweet language, I commenced my Punjab expedition.

My trip commenced from Amritsar, 2nd largest city of the state and closest urban dwelling to Pakistani border. The main reason for including Amritsar in my itinerary was to watch the Retreat Ceremony at Wagah border, which is just about 32 Kms from the city on its outskirts.

For the first time I set foot on the soil of Punjab that afternoon when I landed at Amritsar on the eve of Indian Republic Day. First thing I did after dumping my rucksack at the hotel was to head to the border. One can reach the border in shared jeeps which ply from outside the Golden Temple, the way towards the border from the city was once a part of the Hippie Trail, and it’s surrounded on both sides by beautiful lustrous fields. This land, as I mentioned, is considered as India’s most fertile land. Also as one moves towards the border, one can listen to Lahore’s FM stations without static. Here on an Amritsar station you have playing Sahotas Brothers ‘Teri Meri Gal Ban Gayi’ and on a Lahore counterpart, Saieen Zahoor’s ‘Allah Hoo’.


The lustrous fields on the way to Wagah Border from Amritsar.


Notice the little kid driving the tractor.


Sad that Lahore being mere 23 Kms away, one can’t visit the city because of the imaginary line that divides the two countries.

The two days I was at Amritsar, I went to the border on both. Being there is a hair raising experience. Little kids all dressed up perform on patriotic numbers such as Lata Mangeshkar’s Vande Mataram, Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawaanon Ka etc. before the actual flag lowering ceremony commences. Being there can bring out the feeling of patriotism in a cold person like me too. The pomp and piety may seem pointless but it’s a distinctive, long running tradition and what fun it is. Here we shout ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Vande Mataram’, there they respond by ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘La ilaha illallah’ (though some douchebags on Indian side shout Pakistan Murdabad); here we play ‘Jai Ho’ and there they play ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’. It’s basically where the two countries are displaying their might in a mild manner without any accompanying taboos. It all seems so innocuous considering the long standing enmity between the two countries.


The place gets this crowded on weekends.


The kids performing before the flag lowering exercise commences.


The exercise then takes form of a dance fest where only women are allowed to come down on the boulevard and dance on Bollywood numbers.

This old man was enthusiastically waiving the flag throughout the duration of the exercise.

The Indian BSF start off the ceremony with two women soldiers parading towards the gate and doing the clichéd foot thumping act amidst the cheers of the crowd. This is unique on the Indian side because the Pakistani counterpart Sutlej Rangers employs no women for this act. Then begins the actual flag lowering ceremony where BSF soldiers in funny headgears do a disciplined parade towards the gate, slump it open, likewise on the Pakistani side, do the same foot thumping, groin crunching act, shake hands with the corresponding soldier from the Sutlej Rangers, lower the flag, fold it respectfully and shut the gate close with a bang.


This is as close we are allowed to come near the gate after being stopped short by BSF soldiers, though, as it can be seen, on the Pakistani side, people are allowed to come to the level of their gate. The BSF folks seemed to frown when I was waiving to the people across the border. It’s sad, the turn that history has taken, and the politics, because of which the people of the two countries can’t mingle with each other despite the evident curiosity.


A glimpse of the neighbor’s land beyond.


And that’s Pakistan, so close yet so far away. The gate adorned by the picture of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the way India has Gandhi on its gate.


This is the welcome message one gets when entering the Indian territory from Pakistan. To me it seems like India’s message in the lines of ’On your face, Pakistan’, considering Pakistan has been a military dictatorship for the major part of its history. I am sure, this must provide a welcoming relief to the travellers who enter India via this path.
On an unrelated note, this reminds me of Alice Albinia’s Empires of The Indus, she mentions the change of atmosphere once she crosses the border to India, as in the freedom women enjoy in India when compared to Pakistan and people approaching her asking whether she needed alcohol considering she came from an expedition in a dry country.


Want to post a letter? It won’t take much time to reach Lahore when posted here, considering that from this point, Lahore is closer than Amritsar.

Now coming to the gory parts of the experience. This entire ceremony is not at all well managed by BSF. There are no queues, you can be crushed and pushed in the crowd, and BSF folks are responsible for creating a stampede like situation by charging towards people on their horses in the pretext of managing the crowd before the ceremony, the same thing happens after the ceremony where one is treated like cattle by BSF folks near the gate. Don’t mind if you’re shouted on and insulted by a BSF soldier, that’s the norm for them, along with pushing the crowd, hitting them and not even being careful of the elderly. It seems they have utter disregard for the civilians.

Coming to the seating, I’d suggest you to go there only if you manage to get the VIP pass, which if you’re a foreigner, you’ll not need, otherwise in the general area you’ll be made to sit on hot concrete stands far away from the gate and might end up burning your butt. And don’t even go there with the elderly or as a family because men and women have segregated seating areas. The least BSF can have a ticketing system to manage the crowds in a humane way.

While heading back to Amritsar in the jeep, I met a Kashmiri guy, a young school teacher. He had come from Srinagar specially to watch the retreat ceremony on Republic Day. This was strange considering the hostility many Kashmiris harbor towards the Indian state. I wanted to talk to him about this and the core Kashmir issue as I wanted to hear from a regular Kashmiri, the hardships they face and their perception of the Indian state. So I started gradually from asking him about tourism in Srinagar and then moved on to talk about the army harassment and the issue of Kashmiri Pundits as we moved closer to Amritsar. His views surprised me because unlike most of the Kashmiris, his views were neutral, or that’s what he portrayed for I can understand that no Kashmiri would express his real sentiments to an Indian while on Indian mainland. He spoke enthusiastically about tourism in Srinagar and Gulmarg, when I ask him how Kashmiris perceive Indian tourists, he said that Kashmiris love their tourists and would literally shed their blood for them if required (I know, this sounds far-fetched); I also tried to get out of him his sentiments of Kashmiris about the army patrolling and the harassment faced by Kashmiris under Indian Army, enforced kidnappings, and what role Omar Abdullah is playing to revoke the draconian AFSPA. He opened up a bit when I made it clear that I am for the Kashmiri cause. We talked about how some luminaries like Arundhati Roy after speaking in favor of the Kashmiris have experienced the brunt of the masses, and polity not being openly involved in the Kashmir issue because of fear of insurgency, losing vote bank and for the safeguarding of the sources of India’s major rivers. He also expressed his surprise on how people at the border were posing with BSF soldiers for clicks after the ceremony, whereas in Kashmir, locals can’t even even talk to the armed forces under the fear of being harassed or insulted. I wanted to talk further but we reached the city center and had to take leave after exchanging Facebook ids.

Next, I headed to Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple-which is the most significant Sikh place of worship, and Jallianwala Bagh, which was the site of mass shooting of non-violent Indian protestors by British General Reginald Dyer. More on that in the next post, along with delicious Kulchas of Amritsar. Smile

On Going Solo…

No, not literally you dirty mind. Anyway, now that I’ve grabbed your attention, read on…

I did it, took out the time to go for a solo backpacking trip across certain parts of Northern India. Solo backpacking, I wanted to do this since a long time, since when I was in college. Inspired by those who traversed the Hippie Trail for months and years at stretch in 60s and 70s, I wanted to do something similar, but practically, for a much shorter duration and within India for now. I managed to get a week off from work and without thinking twice, I started planning my itinerary to head out in the unknown (for me of course). The 9 day long trip took me to three different states and exposed me to a multitude of cultures, different types of food, and foremost, bestowed upon me the feeling of self-belief and the satisfaction of accomplishing something significant. Not to mention, it helped me grow personally.

When I told my friends that I’m going to indulge in this trip on my own, I saw expressions of disbelief and surprise on their faces, like how can anyone travel solo, as in what’s the fun in that? But solo backpacking is nothing to be afraid about and I say it’s something that every young person should experience, especially in India.

  • Firstly, you’re hardly ever alone. When you’re travelling solo, you’re motivated to talk to people, be it locals or other fellow travelers (and trust me, you’ll find others like you who’re out to explore, mostly they’ll be foreigners).
  • Secondly, you don’t have to be answerable to anyone. Don’t like a particular cuisine? Shun it. Not satisfied with your hostel/hotel? Change it. Have had enough of this town? Leave. Want to get up at an unearthly hour to see the sunrise over the cliff? Do it. It feels good to be doing all this for yourself, without worrying about the expectations or discomfort of anyone. If I’d been travelling with someone, I’m sure I’d have been able to do only half the things that I do when I travel alone. Also being dependent on someone may not even make your travel possible. Take for example, you managed to get a week long off from work after much haggling with your boss, but your travel companion doesn’t have time during that week. What do you do? Skip the trip? No, life’s too short to waste your time. Go solo. It may sound selfish but you’ve worked and saved hard to undertake this trip and you can’t ruin it by being dependent on someone else. After all it’s your holiday. Moreover it’s tough to find people to go to the places you want to explore and the way you want to do it.
    Additionally, there are smaller benefits like, waking up and asking yourself what you want to do today, and then go and do it and managing your budget as per your liking. I’ve always preferred to travel alone, be it my intra city exploring outings or something of this sort because of the above stated benefits.
  • Thirdly and most importantly, backpacking solo helps your personal growth by dragging you out of your comfort zone. You don’t have people around you can rely on; you have to rely on yourself. You have to motivate yourself to make the most of your trip. You’re all to yourself and completing the trip gives you a great sense of accomplishment, trust me, it does. My trip helped me grow heaps, ranging from budgeting to people skills. You’ll learn a lot about yourself in those moments of solitude while watching the valley below or sitting beneath the stars on a clear, chilly night surrounded by the mountains, than travelling with a companion and spending half of your time arguing over one thing or the other, unless of course you’re extremely lucky to travel with someone who shares exactly your tastes in life. And once you’ve completed the trip, you’ll be inspired to undertake more such trips, because the experience is unique, for when you’re backpacking, you’re a traveler, not a tourist.

I was fortunate. Boy, what a trip mine turned out to be, ranging from getting to see His Holiness The Dalai Lama at McLeodGanj to watching the Retreat ceremony at Wagah border on Republic Day to meeting some friends whom I wanted to meet since long at Delhi.

As the famous traveler Ibn Batuta has said about traveling: It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story teller. My story will commence from the next blog post. 🙂

Picture Courtesy: prepare-and-protect.net