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6 things I learnt on a solo trip to Kangra, Himachal Pradesh

Six significant takeaways from my recent vacation in Himachal Pradesh, now documented as a published article in eShe.

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie.

I had read this quote a few years back but I realised its true import recently when I set off for the Himalayas, my second solo trip in two years. My destination was Naddi, a small village in the Kangra subdivision of Himachal Pradesh.

Situated 2180 metres above sea level, Naddi offers breathtaking views of both the snow-capped Dhauladhar ranges, and also the unending green vistas of the Kangra valley. Being based out of Bengaluru, I had to take two flights – one to Delhi and another short one to Kangra. This was followed by a one-and-half hour drive to the property. By afternoon, I was inhaling lungsful of the fresh, nippy air that was a luxury for the city-slicker in me.

Mine was a 10-day trip. I spent the first couple of days relaxing. My room commanded an unhindered and spectacular view of the snow-crested peaks. I woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the first flush of peach and pink peeking from behind the slopes, and how the birds and animals wired their natural rhythm around the movement of the sun.

Over the next few days, I made day trips to the nearby touristy sites – the ancient Bhagsunag temple with its spiritual aura, the Dharamshala Skyway offering an aerial view of the mountains and forests, the Dalai Lama Temple with its friendly monks, the rolling tea plains of Palampur, the Chamunda Devi Temple, the village of Dharamkot with its meditation centres and European visitors, the bustling Mcleodganj town and its chic cafes, St John’s Wilderness Church, and the picturesque hill town of Dharamshala.

Here are six important things I learnt.

The mighty Dhauladhars looming large in front of the property. (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Do your research

As a solo woman traveller in her mid-fifties, I depended entirely on cabs for my commutes. Trekking, availing local bus services or hitch-hiking were not an option for me.

So, I made a detailed study of the various places, their routes and accessibility, the distance between different places, the expected travel time and road conditions, and prepared a rough itinerary. Of course, not everything can be pre-planned – several modifications need to be made as per real-time requirements.

But having a basic understanding of things and storing important data on the phone save time and help avoid confusion later. Especially when one has to bank solely on Google maps, and the assumed integrity of the cab driver.

Mountains and a curated breakfast – bon appetit! (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Be confident

That brings me to the role played by our confidence and self-belief. Very often during my trip, I was asked by cab drivers, hotel owners or restaurant stewards, “Aap kitne log hain? (How many people are travelling with you?)” Or, “Table for two?” I held my head high, looked them in the eye, and answered, “For one”. There were statements like, “How do you manage alone?” The non-verbal exclamations or the quizzical looks that followed did not perturb me.

There were other reactions, too – cagey glances, wistful sighs, and apprehensive one-liners, often from ladies with large families in tow. I inwardly chuckled at some of them, and chose to ignore the rest. When I devote myself entirely to the family for 355 days in a year, is a 10-day self-rejuvenation break too much to ask for?

Only when I assert and claim my single travelling status with pride will others accept and respect it. It is a status I have worked hard to earn, and I certainly didn’t want others to spoil the experience for me.

My cosy nook with a stunning view (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Have a deep wallet

Exciting and adventurous as it may sound, solo travel is a big-ticket project. Topping the list of expenses is the fortune spent on accommodation. The property needs to have an impeccable reputation and amenities to match. I searched extensively on the Internet before zeroing in on this particular resort.

I needed a cosy, temperature-controlled room, 24×7 hot water, clean and comfortable beds and extra-warm quilts. And most importantly, I wanted a room with a view, even if it meant shelling out extra bucks.

Next, I tied up with their travel partner for all the commutes. I knew this would cost more compared with cabs taken from the local taxi stand. But a hotel tie-up ensures accountability, drivers with police verified backgrounds, and hence, greater safety.

Tucking into a Mediterranean meal at Dharamkot, the mini-Israel of India (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Food, too, hurt my pocket. Each dish I ordered had enough to serve two, which, evidently, I could not polish off alone. So, I requested them to serve me smaller portions for the same money. All these elements, put together, substantially amplified the overall cost.

It was my first self-sponsored travel, my first big expenditure, much to the annoyance of the husband. I dug into the savings of my erstwhile teaching days for the trip, which left me poorer by a good 1.1 lakh rupees!

At Palampur – the tea capital of north India (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Mind your age and fitness levels

While it is all very easy to mouth cliches like ‘age is just a number’, mountain terrains can be challenging, exhausting, and perilous. Drawing inspiration from glitzy travel videos can be an exercise in foolhardiness. Hence, I ditched uphill walks or treacherous climbs.

For instance, I visited the Bhagsunag Temple and the vibrant marketplace outside, but did not venture towards the Bhagsunath waterfall and the iconic Shiva Café. This deliberate omission from almost the threshold of the Falls tugged at my heartstrings, but I knew that one wrong step could lead to an ugly fall or a sprained ankle, which, in turn, would be a huge setback to my health and the rest of my holiday.

Besides, I had a family waiting for me back home, and I certainly needed to make responsible choices. As a solo traveller, I believe in keeping my expectations real, and prioritising my personal safety.

Ancient Deodar forests flanking the Dal Lake of Himachal (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Take stock of weather conditions    

I visited Himachal in mid-October when the weather remains favourable – bright, sunny mornings, nippy evenings and crisp, cold nights. A fortnight before my journey commenced, I started following the daily weather forecast of McLeodganj, the town nearest to my destination. It predicted rain and thundershowers in the latter half of my stay. So, I planned my itinerary in such a way that most of the sites were covered before the weather played spoilt sport.

My visit to McLeodganj market was scheduled on a Saturday evening – I wanted to soak in the glitzy touristy ambience on a weekend. But the skies turned hostile early that morning.

It was a blustery day with dense fog, a squall howling across the valley, and whipping up buckets of rain the whole day. I peeked at the scene outside through my window and muttered a silent prayer for collective safety. I was disappointed about my evening plan going kaput.

The rains abated a little around 5.30 pm. A chance conversation with the property manager offered a sliver of hope – he was sure the rains would hold up for a while.

The bustling McLeodganj Chowk (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Heeding his advice, I decided to try my luck. A quick call to the driver, and by six, I was headed to the market, after layering myself well with a woollen coat, cap and gloves. Notwithstanding the light drizzle, the main chowk was abuzz with both tourists and local residents, enjoying the weekend chill. The entire place was charged with infectious energy and joie de vivre.

After spending two hours exploring the shops, buying some eclectic pahadi ware, and savouring some delectable confectionaries at a popular café, we started back. Driving through the dark, meandering roads flanked by silent deodar forests, with only the muted headlights showing the way ahead, was a surreal experience for me.

By nine, I was back within the safe precincts of my hotel and thereafter, the rains started again.

The locals offer such warm, welcoming vibes (Photo: Urmi Chakravorty)

Seize the moment

This entire episode had an important takeaway for me – to understand and honour the concept of carpe diem. No day is completely perfect – the onus lies on us to make it memorable, to make every moment and experience count.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity about what is lost, true wisdom lies in making the most of what remains. And that is a precious and abiding life lesson this vacation gifted me.

All Images: Urmi Chakravorty

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