Travel is never a matter of money but of courage. -Paulo Coelho
Living Your Dreams – Story #2
How many of us have dreamt leaving everything on hand and going on a backpacking trip all by ourselves, exploring the world, living in unknown destinations. Our second story about is about a person who not just dreamt that but is also living her dreams. Solo backpacking tour by a woman in India is almost unheard of. Shalini Gupta is breaking the norm and doing just that.
And if you are an Indian (especially a girl), travel is a matter of your parent’s permission also. Fear of safety and their inability to believe that their children are grown ups stops them from letting us go. And then there is “Log kya Kahenge”(other’s opinion). Luckily for me, my parents never paid attention to what others had to say. The poor souls were only traumatized by the thought of sending their daughter for a solo trip.
Yes, Solo! Are you shocked too? Then let me answer the question: Why solo travel? At 5 I wanted to be a doctor, at 10 a model, at 15 a CEO of a company and now at 22 I have no freaking clue about what I want to do in life. The only thing that has remained constant all these years is my dream to travel. There has always been this desire to know about different cultures, cuisines and places. I must say that the very idea of doing all the aforementioned things without an itinerary and all alone in a new place is equally thrilling. That’s why solo travel.
So where were we? Ah! Permission. Well! It took around two years to convince my parents that I am ready to go for a solo trip. Once the permission was sorted, they were more excited than I was. A quick search listed quite a few places safe for female solo traveling. Since I was keen on going to the South, I chose Pondicherry.
Traveling without an itinerary doesn’t mean you do not do your homework. Although there was some amount of web search involved. I relied more on the inputs given by people who had visited Pondicherry before. I found them to be more useful than the ones given online.
After all the preparation it was time to execute the plan. I took a flight to Chennai and thereafter a bus to Pondicherry. Once I reached my destination, I hired a scooty even though I was advised against it. Why? I wanted to be independent and also the auto rickshaw drivers there can really put your bargaining skills to test. I do not have any bargaining skill, forget putting one to test. Hiring the scooty turned out to be the best decision of the trip.
Riding the scooty in the unknown lanes of Pondicherry made me feel like I am on the top of the world. For the first time in my life, uncertainty did not scare me. I felt like a free bird that is INVINCIBLE. It was the out of the world feeling, I was waiting to experience.
Pondicherry has a few places to visit which can be easily covered in 2-3days. I first visited the famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram followed by Manakula Vinayagar Temple and a church in the French quarter. Both the temple and the church are architecturally beautiful. One of the highlights of the day was having waffle at a French Café. The waffle just melted in my mouth. The soothing music and the ambience were like icing on the cake. Oh! How I wish the time stopped there.
I had reserved the second day for Auroville. I did not take the bus but instead decided to drive 15km. Well! You know why? Auroville is a very peaceful place. The ever smiling residents, natural beauty and the Matrimandir make the place even more beautiful. There itself on Auroville main road, I had some mouthwatering pizzas at Tanto. After spending good three four hours in Auroville, I headed back to Pondicherry. The 15km ride back did not dampen my spirit. I later visited the botanical garden and another church.
On the last day, I had some yummy croissants at Baker’s Street. It was followed by loitering around in the French quarter and a trip to the Paradise beach.
Before the trip, for me solo traveling meant knowing different cultures and cuisines. But a solo travel isn’t only about sightseeing and eating alone. It is about meeting different people as well. In my three day stay in Pondicherry, the only thing I liked more than the scooty ride and the food was my interactions with new people.
These wonderful souls taught me so many things. The Spanish guys taught me it is never too late to pursue your dreams. Then there was a couple at my guest house with whom I spent hours talking. My interactions with them taught me even though we have stark differences in our cultures, the basic human behavior is same everywhere. And how can I forget the locals, who helped me with the directions.
At the end of the trip, I found myself to be happy from within after ages. I was bit more confident and loved myself a lot more. Some of the things I scribbled in my diary on my way back to Chennai were:
A scooty ride in an alien land can boost your confidence in ways years of doing so called important things can’t.
Sometimes it is important to do things that only make you happy.
It isn’t selfish to think about yourself and your dreams.
Solo traveling is addictive.
And lastly, you become a pro in taking selfies after a solo trip.
It is rightly said that behind every successful woman there is a family who trusted her and not the society. I would like to add friends to the list. As much as I am grateful to my parents for this wonderful gift, I would like to thank my friends as well.
Shalini Gupta is an avid blogger and traveler. Still in her early twenties, she recently fulfilled her dream of doing a solo backpacking trip. You can read some of Shalini’s writing here: https://theurbannomadtales.wordpress.com/category/straight-from-the-heart/