When the world was out there celebrating and partying to welcome 2019 on the cold winter night, I was all cozy in my blanket, trying to see through 2018 and see what I did right and what all went wrong. It was a tough one, but that’s not the point. I discovered something liberating, beautiful, something so breathtaking that you almost feel like getting a new life with each breath you take.
I found a “solo traveler” in me. Yeah! I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise a solo traveler if the year had been a happy one. Sometimes you need difficulties to see where your strength lies.
- It was a hard one…
- And my same old habit…
- And the moment came…
- Destination, locked…
- Need to update family..
- And becoming a superlady…
- Second thoughts???
- No Money…
- Hunger struck me…
- And the journey begun…
- Right out of Bollywood movie…
- Time for some “Adventure”…
- World is a beautiful place…
- And here it was…
- DAY 1: Soak in the view!!
- Day 2: Trekking in the woods..
- DAY 3: Preparations for Independence Day..
- Day 4: Happy Independence Day! In true sense..
It was a hard one…
As it was already a challenging year, it gave me the courage to risk it, choose uncertainty, explore something new, gets into unchartered territory, and take the road less traveled.
When you are already having a hard time, you get this immense power of leaving your safety net because how does it even matter? You are already struggling; things are already going wrong. So what else can happen? You are facing whatever life is sending your way; you can face a little more, just in case. After all, life just made you stronger and smarter on the way.
And my same old habit…
I had this habit of Googling the images of mountains first thing after getting to my workplace. It always gave me immense peace and strength to look at them, even though via my desktop. It was enough to have mountains as my desktop wallpaper to get through the rest of the day and the pressure of life. They were my motivation to face life every day, and I knew all I wanted was to be with them.
And the moment came…
So one fine day, out of daily habit, I was just going through the images of mountains, Lush green beautiful mountains, when I realized I had four days available at my disposal on the occasion of Independence day. Without wasting a second, I checked the booking for Zostel Dalhousie. Wow !!!! AVAILABLE. And booked 😀 I planned my first ever solo trip within 10 minutes.
I was always clear where I wanted to go for my first trip alone. DALHOUSIE! When I first heard about Zostel, and while going through their website, I came across the mesmerizing images of Dalhousie, and that was the day I added it to my bucket list.
My first journey as a “Female Solo Traveller” was on. But wait!! I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t even tell my family about my plan, I just booked the place and didn’t even have any mode of transportation decided. PLUS, I had to leave the same day from Delhi to reach Dalhousie the next day in the morning. I didn’t want to waste a moment. Of course, I wouldn’t. I always waited for it to happen.
Need to update family..
So the first thing I did after planning my trip was to inform my family (Family comes first, so they should always know what you are up to). They were initially hesitant, as it was the rainy season, and news channels were pouring with the news of landslides in the higher regions, but that wasn’t much of the problem. Being a girl, the biggest fear for your family is always your safety. So, of course, permission doesn’t come in handy. But they agreed after I promised to take care of myself and keep them updated, that I would have done in any case.
And becoming a superlady…
So on the 11th of August, 2018, I was set for my first solo travel. But wait (again)! I didn’t pack my bags. Well, of course, the trip was unplanned. So it was about 7 pm. I had a place to stay and permission from the family. What about transportation? I started searching for buses frantically. Every bus for Dalhousie leaves by 8:30 pm. It was already 7 with no bags in the picture.
I had to leave by 7:30 anyhow. So, packed within 15 minutes. Double checked my stuff and started looking for buses again, but in vain. I decided to leave as it would’ve taken an hour to reach anywhere in Delhi where buses would’ve been available, so I thought of utilizing my time in the metro to look for a bus again. So I just left with the hope of seeing the beautiful sun in Dalhousie.
After boarding the metro, I started making phone calls to bus operators. They told me that buses had already left RK Ashram(Delhi) as it was past eight, and now I could only find one from Majnu Ka Tilla, as it’s another place where private bus operators operate from.
I had never been to Majnu Ka Tilla before. So googled the nearest metro station, which was Vidhan Sabha. The next thing I didn’t know was where that metro station was, so I tracked the route through the metro app (Thank God for smartphones) and reached the Vidhan Sabha metro station. It was 8:20, and I was unsure if I could reach any bus in time. But you always try and never give up.
After getting out of the metro station, as I was pretty unaware of the place and it was dark outside, I had a second thought about the entire idea. But as I previously said, bad times give you courage. There were Rickshaw Wala all lined up. I talked to one such “Rickshaw Wala Bhaiya” and told them I had to catch a bus for either Dalhousie or Pathankot from Majnu Ka Tilla. He was aware of the places where buses could be found. After about ten minutes of rickshaw ride, I saw a bus and went to check with them. That bus was going to Katra, and they informed me that all the buses for Dalhousie might have already left. I forgot to ask them about Pathankot. And just so you know, the route to Katra is via Pathankot. I was losing hope when I heard someone enquiring about the time they were going to take to reach Pathankot in the morning. I ran to enquire about Pathankot, and the conductor said a big yes this time. My happiness knew no boundaries.
But the day wasn’t done for me yet. I just realized I didn’t have any cash on me. Go cashless!! But not everywhere. I had to buy the ticket in cash, and for that I needed ATM. After working… running… and planning or not so planning the whole day, I was hell tired. Here came the rescuer, “Rickshaw Wala Bhaiya” who offered to take me to a nearby ATM. We found ATM, and I paid him the amount that made him happy, though it was quite more than what was decided, but who cares? He helped me when I needed it. And it meant a lot.
Hunger struck me…
After thanking him for his help, I boarded my bus, paid for my ticket, and got comfortable in my comfy sleeper. Waiting eagerly for the next day to come. Tired but still excited, and sleep was nowhere to be found. BUT I was hunger struck. Oh yeah !! Forgot to eat the whole day?
Thankfully, the bus halted in a hotel, and I ate one of the best burgers of my life (or maybe I was just too hungry). Now I decided to rest for a while, after setting an alarm for 5 am and it was already around 1 am.
I got up before my alarm could’ve been of any use to me. Excitement doesn’t let you sleep. I used GPS to track my location and to see the time it was supposed to take to reach Pathankot. It was 4:30, and we were still at the distance of one and half hours.
In half an hour, the world was all lit up, and my heart was too. I gathered all my stuff and went to the driver’s cabin. I sat there on the side seat and started looking at the road (the first pic was taken from this cabin). And I was on THE TRIP.
And the journey begun…
The feel of fresh air on your face and in your lungs is one of the best things. One can ever experience. That’s what I was gifted with. The view was beautiful, and the rain just made it greener and spectacular. At the beginning of the trip, I was a bit unsure about it, as the rainy season is off-season for the tourism industry in the mountains. But if you want to see nature in its full glory, believe me, it’s the best time.
My level of excitement was rising with the rise in altitude. It was all so scenic and peaceful. I fell in love with the place even before reaching there. Everything around was so calm.
Mountains are said to have a really slow life. But that’s the beauty of it. People don’t seem to be part of any race there. They’re in no hurry to reach anywhere. They smile at you; they are willing to talk to you, walk with you and help you if need be. They are so warm and courteous. That’s one thing you miss in metropolitan cities, of course, apart from mountains themselves.
Right out of Bollywood movie…
As the bus kept moving, my dream was coming true with a change in landscapes. I was ecstatic. These old Bollywood songs were playing on the bus, and it felt as if I was part of some Bollywood movie because everything was too good to be true.
The bus halted for a tea break in the small place. Driver Ji informed everyone that it was 15 minutes halt and the bus would leave exactly after 15 minutes. Everyone got down. I was the only one inside the bus. Driver Ji noticed that and came back to ask me to eat something as it would take two more hours to reach Dalhousie. I was touched by his gesture of taking care of the people around. Small things do matter. I informed him about having my breakfast beforehand, to which he smiled and went back to the place.
The bus left at the exact time, and scenes started to change again. I couldn’t stop smiling like a kid with her favorite chocolates. I was at peace and super happy after quite a long time. After all, this was one of the moments I had always dreamt of. Moments like these make all the trouble worth it. And I earned this.
Time for some “Adventure”…
I started checking my GPS for Zostel. As I was a bit confused about the location, I tried checking with the conductor showing him the location at GPS. He didn’t appear to be sure. So I tried checking with the locals, but even they were not much aware of it. I got down at the place which looked like a safe bet to me, and the conductor approved of it to be the nearest stop for Zostel.
So here I was, out of bus. With a backpack and a sling bag, standing on the side of the road, trying to figure out the GPS location. In a couple of minutes, I was sure that I had made the mistake of getting down at the wrong place. Dalhousie was still at a distance of 4 km. So what next? Well !! The first choice was to get a cab to Zostel, which would have cost at least 1000 Rs. (Naaaahhhh !! This was a budget trip).. The second was to walk at least up to the Dalhousie bus stand and then to figure out the way to reach Zostel from there. I opted for option second for obvious reasons. And started walking. After walking for an hour, reality hit me. My bags were heavy, and I wasn’t fit enough to climb all the way up with so much weight, that too after tiresome yesterday.
World is a beautiful place…
I was in the middle of nowhere, and going back to the same place for a cab didn’t seem like a good option either. I tried calling Zostel Dalhousie to ask for guidance and so on, but no one picked up the call, and my phone was almost dead. Well, I started walking again and in the meanwhile saw a couple driving past me on a scooter. I stopped them to ask about Zostel, but even they were not aware of it.
I thanked them and started with my “adventure.” I heard a voice just after 5 minutes. I turned back to see the gentleman (the couple I met a few minutes back) who came back to tell me that he had just checked Zostel, and it was far from where I was. He suggested I take a cab and offered me a ride back to the place where I got down from my bus, and I shouldn’t have.
We were just discussing the viable option, when we saw the HRTC bus coming, we started waving at it to stop, and it did stop just a few steps ahead when we were almost sure it won’t. I thanked him for his help and ran towards the bus. I was on the bus AGAIN! I was thankful once again to the stranger who helped me. This journey showed me how people were so willing to help despite all the negative things we read about. The world was still a beautiful place with beautiful people!
I was carried away in my thoughts when the conductor asked me for a ticket, which was for Rs. 5. I handed him over 100 Rs. note, which he denied and asked for change. I checked and told him I just had 4 Rs. change, and he accepted it and gave me a ticket. I was wondering if I was in an altogether different time. People were helpful, courteous, smiling, and warm. It had been a long time when I last saw such people.
And here it was…
Smiling in my thoughts, I didn’t realize when the bus reached the Dalhousie bus stand, and everyone got down. I looked at the place. It had just rained, and the place was all covered in fog. It was so clear that it was off-season. It was not at all crowded, just a few people. I went to check for a cab for Zostel from there and hailed one for Rs. 350. I was in the cab trying to look at the mountains which were all hidden in the fog. I was a little disheartened there.
Asked my cab driver if that’s how it was going to be all the time, to which he replied that you couldn’t be sure of the weather on mountains. It kept changing in ways no one could interpret. After 20 minutes ride, I reached ZOSTEL! Ohh, God! This felt like forever. Zostel Dalhousie. Here it was.
I was standing by the roadside looking at the orange hoarding of Zostel. It had these lovely rainbow stairs to its paradise. I carefully got down the stairs and started looking around, trying to figure out the place. I saw a group of guys discussing something and enquired them about the reception. Once I found it, I cleared my due payment for the booking I made. Thereafter, I kept my bags in my locker and started exploring places.
DAY 1: Soak in the view!!
It was in the middle of the day, and the place was all covered in fog. There was no view. As I was too hungry, I ordered my lunch. While eating in the lovely cafeteria of Zostel, which had these large windows, I glanced through them and saw magic. It was clear outside, fog and clouds were all gone, just within a few minutes. AND THE VIEW! My eyes were wide open. I knew Dalhousie would be beautiful, but this beautiful? I was stunned by the beauty of nature and couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I was on cloud 9, and it was pure heaven.
I sat there for the longest of time and just stared outside. Later, I walked into this open terrace to get a closer look. I sat there in complete silence and just kept looking at the beautiful mountains and trees around. As I was tired after the whole journey, so decided to rest. I slept for so long that by the time I woke up, it was already dark and Zostel was full of people. I sat on the balcony right outside my dorm with my book, and my plan was to read. But the place was a little too loud for that. So I dumped the plan.
I met the same group of four, whom I had asked the way to the reception in the afternoon. Then I met two girls from Delhi, a couple from Mumbai. We sat in the cafeteria and started playing “Uno”. I was new to it, playing with a pro, and lost it big time. But it was so much fun. We all chatted, ate, laughed, and played like long-lost friends. That’s the beauty of Zostel. POSITIVE VIBES!!
We sat there until midnight. It was time for the cafeteria to be closed. But no one wanted to call it a day. So we went to the balcony outside of our dorms downstairs and started talking about anything and everything. Though it was completely dark outside and we couldn’t see anything, it was nothing less magical to hear that sound of water coming from the nearby water body.
It was getting cold outside. So we decided to continue our chatting in a common area, which was already a little crowded. We talked more, listened to music, then talked a little more and decided to go to sleep, so as to start the next day with all our energy.
I came back to my dorm only to find my blanket missing. I remembered, there were a few guys in a common area, who were gathering blankets from every dorm, for themselves. But I never expected mine to be gone. This wasn’t happening.
I was too cold and had no blanket. But there was nothing that could’ve been done at that moment. So I decided to try and sleep without a blanket. It was already 2:30 am and I kept trying to sleep for another hour. With great difficulty, I somehow managed to sleep for two hours. Why couldn’t I have a day without a challenge?
Day 2: Trekking in the woods..
It was 5:30 am, and it was all bright again. I could’ve slept until 10 in the morning, if and only if I had my blanket. But as I was already too cold to sleep, I got ready to welcome the new day with a smile rather than nagging over something. I was out on the balcony and decided to check around.
There were these stairs going down into the valley. So I got down those stairs and in a few minutes. I was in the middle of huge crops of corn. I kept moving down into the valley and met this local lady, who was curious about the girl roaming around alone this early in the morning. We chatted for a while when I bid her goodbye and moved on to explore the place.
It was drizzling and the place was slippery. I went to the plane area, where there were two small houses. Every view was so beautiful, and I was so happy. I sat there for a while. It was starting to rain a little heavier, so decided to head back.
After coming back to Zostel, I went to the cafeteria, had my breakfast, and just soaked in the peace of the place. Everyone was up by this time and the cafeteria was crowded again. A group of four friends was leaving today, so we clicked pics, exchanged numbers, and laughed a little more. I planned to go trekking to Kalatop and the couple and Delhi girls decided to join in. So after bidding goodbye to the group of four, we arranged for the guide for our trek and were all set for it.
We were 6 people in the trek, and 4 were unfit for it. The two-person who were fit, comprised of our guide himself, who was literally done with us. This was at the beginning of the trek itself. We were struggling. To climb up, to keep our balance, and to not slip. We started playing songs on our Bluetooth speaker and started chatting to keep each other engaged.
We walked through forest, roads, denser forest and kept moving upwards. We stopped every now and then, as weren’t used to walking this much distance and were tired easily. But the view paid off for every pain and our company kept us strong. After walking for God knew how long, we reached Kalatop and went to this small cafe where we had coffee and ‘Pakodas‘ with amazing views.
Trek wasn’t about reaching the top but moving together, enjoying the journey and the view, more like life. It made me learn things, it showed me how it wasn’t about the race, and so much about the slow and steady process of trying and not giving up. And how all the efforts made were paid off with the taste of victory or say coffee in our case.
Delhi girls were having a bus back to Delhi at night and it was already evening, so we decided to take a cab back to Zostel. On the way back, we saw the prestigious Dalhousie Public School. Once we reached Zostel, it was again time to bid goodbye to newly made friends. Thereafter, I came back to my dorm and decided to chill with my book. I started reading and never realized when I dozed off. I slept like a baby after a tiresome but seriously awesome day.
DAY 3: Preparations for Independence Day..
I woke up around 6 am to the beautiful view again. I was famished, as I didn’t have any dinner day before. So I got ready and reached the cafeteria again. Ordered some ‘paranthas’ and coffee. The best part of getting up early was to get the entire cafeteria for me. As if I owned it, and it was all my place. I savored my breakfast and started reading again in the cafeteria itself.
I read for quite a long when the couple showed up for breakfast and told me it was their time to leave. I was a little sad. It was too fast to say goodbyes to so many amazing people in such a short span. Well! It was my solo travel but made friends on the go. I talked to them for some time. Exchanged pics of the trek, told them how amazing it was to meet them and the feeling was mutual. They left to get ready and pack their stuff and I resumed reading. In a couple of hours, I said goodbye to another set of friends.
So made 8 friends in two days, and it was just me on the third day. I was feeling a bit low, to be honest, wasn’t much of a good feeling, as I am really bad at saying goodbyes. But you always cherish the memories you make.
I was reading again and was into my book when I heard people discussing their destination for the day and just so you know, they were the same set of people who were gathering blankets that day. One of them was trying to convince the cab driver to charge less and the way he was doing it, was hilarious.
They were talking about the place to go. So I suggested Kalatop, as that was the only place I had been to and they hadn’t been to. I told them beforehand, that it was more about the view on the route than on the top, and suggested they stop in between to get some lovely views and pics. And they left for Kalatop.
Now it was me, my Zostel cafeteria, and my book AGAIN. Zostel staff was busy with some arrangements when my guide from yesterday’s trek came over and told me, that they were going to decorate the cafeteria for the Independence Day Celebration. I was asked to help and guide them in the decorations. I said yes with the excitement, I never had for anything else.
There were ribbons, flags, balloons, everything that we needed for decor and I had people who were willing to follow my guidance. What else do you need in life? One thing that I missed telling you about this cafeteria is its music. It always stays vibrant with the music that keeps playing there and messages that people have written everywhere in and around it. So, I played some of my favorite patriotic songs to set the mood and started with the decorations.
We started with balloons and divided teams to compete against each other and I lost. Ah! Then I assigned the duty of balloons to the more efficient person, my guide, fittest of all. Till then I was invited by another staff to play “Jenga” with them, and I was new to this one too. I lost the first game and but I understood the trick and won two. Not bad. Balloons were set by then. We made a set of three in tricolor. Everyone started with the decorations, and now the windows were covered in flags and balloons.
By this time, two more people joined us, Vipin and Abhishek. That’s where I met them for the first time officially (had seen them a couple of times before that in Zostel) and they were part of the blanket stealing group and were back from Kalatop. Their other gang members had already left for Delhi. So as they had nothing else to do, they joined us in decorations and now I had more manpower. Now the only thing I needed to do, was to be creative and to command.
We worked until late and then ordered dinner. We ate together and talked about our native places. We were from the same place and bonded over it. Topic varied from work, family, travel and many more things. It was getting super cold, so we decided to resume our conversation in the common area.
Once we went out of the cafeteria and looked towards the sky, we were spell-bounded. This was a clear night without a cloud, and the sky was all covered with stars. This was the best end to our trips, and we were thankful to mother nature for bestowing this blessing upon us.
We resumed our conversation and discovered this common passion for travel. I told them about my favorite travel channel, and we shared stories. It was late and we decided to resume our conversation after the interval. So we wished “Happy Independence Day” to each other and called it the day.
Day 4: Happy Independence Day! In true sense..
I got up early as usual, and as this was my last day of the trip, I wanted to make the most out of it. This was my Independence day celebration. I got ready and left for the cafeteria, as we still had a few arrangements to make. Vipin and Abhishek joined me again and we started giving everything the final touch. It was all set in a couple of hours. We had breakfast and chatted again.
There was this “Vriksha Ropan” ceremony held by Zostel, and we all went to plant trees in the forest. It was a noble cause and made me feel even more grateful for this trip. Vipin and Abhishek were supposed to leave in the afternoon and it was again me bidding goodbye to newly made friends. SIGHS! It wasn’t fair. I tried convincing them, to stay until evening but in vain. So we took pics and shared numbers and promised to stay in touch. Well, we are.
Now it was me in the cafeteria again. Zostel staff invited me to join them in yet another new game for me “Bluff” and I was happy again, though my happiness wasn’t long-lasting as I lost badly.
New guests were all signing in. So it was a busy day for Zostel, yet they made sure I was always accompanied and never bored. They told me interesting stories about guests and those who were still in touch. It was a happy feeling. They invited me again for my next trip in winter and I promised them I will. Not yet happened.
I had to travel at night, so decided to rest for a couple of hours and went back to my dorm to sleep. When I got up, I was fresh and energetic. Packed all my stuff and got ready for going back to the old life, but with new energy and hope.
I carried my bags to the cafeteria, ordered some snacks, and asked them to clear my bills. They requested me to stay for one more day and to celebrate with them and cut the cake for the celebrations. I was touched with the affection, but travel comes with the condition of saying byes more often than you wish to. And that’s the beauty of it. You look forward to seeing them again, until next time.
So with a hopeful heart, I looked around one last time. Tried to memorize each and everything about the place, the view, the people, the friends I made, the peace I felt. And saved it in my memories forever. This was my time to leave. So I thanked all the staff for their warm hospitality. With the promise of coming back again, I left Zostel Dalhousie !! Those stairs I took to enter paradise, showed me the way out of it. But with the promise of doing it all over again and again and again !!
My cab was waiting outside and one of the Zostel staff (my guide) was with me, to drop me at my bus to Delhi. They made sure I boarded the right bus and was on time. So here came the end of my trip. I boarded the bus from Dalhousie at 8 pm, and reached Delhi at 6 am the next day. I slept throughout my journey, as the bus “Indo Canadian” was too comfortable and the seat next to me was empty. So I occupied both, Yay !! So, I was back in Delhi and it was time again to go to work, but this time mountains were not in my wallpaper. They were in my heart!
Guest Post By Nitika Singh
As “Niti” I am a believer in the policy of humanity and kindness. Help one another and grow together. That’s my mantra for life. No matter what life offers you. Always create what you like out of it. Keep going! “BE A TRAVELER AND TRAVEL THROUGH LIFE WITH EASE AND GRACE”