How One Solo Backpacking Trip Changed My Life For Good

How One Solo Backpacking Trip Changed My Life For Good

A solo backpacking trip is something that everybody desires, but rarely a few make it. There are no good or bad reasons to do it or not to do it. I have had always traveled with friends, and I never thought that one day I’d do something like that.

I am a crazy fan of travel movies, whether it’s the friends going on a vacation or a solo journey of a single person. It always inspired but hadn’t had the courage to do so. It sounds a little contradictory that being an introvert, it would have been considerably easy though. I mean, being an introvert doesn’t mean that we don’t like to meet people or spend quality time with friends. That also doesn’t mean we want to be alone, all the time.

Anyway, let’s not deviate.

My mind was racing probably faster than Bugatti Veyron if you know what I mean. I had no clue what to expect or what to do when I get there, wherever I wanted to get to. It was also scary to ask anyone that has been to one, although it could have been useful, I still hesitated to ask anyone.

Thinking to myself, what if they tell me they had the world’s best time and I don’t get to enjoy it that much. It would be disappointing not to have measured up with the same level of experience that someone else had.

So, without looking for any information about where to stay or what to do, I decided to just leave. You know, like what’s the worse that could happen, right?

What Made Me Take The Solo Backpacking Trip?

Some people make a random decision to take a solo backpacking trip, to experience without any distractions. Others do that because they like the freedom of being alone and do everything on their own and not having to stick to a routine or a plan.

Sometimes, you go through so many things in life, that make you want to escape life. Even if it is for just a little while. Get away from all the chaos, so much stress, expectations, everyday difficulties, and all the negativity in and around us.

Well, that was me at that time.

I had gone through a break-up, although it hadn’t affected my exterior self that much then I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on inside. In addition to that, work-life miserable. Being not happy in an organization, not appreciated, no matter what you do was never good enough.

With all of that going on in an overthinking brain, I was reaching a point of a breakdown that I was trying so hard not to. By doing just that, I pushed myself closer towards it.

That pretty much forced me to get away from everything, drop everything and go. As I said earlier, even if it was just for a little while.

None of my friends really had an experience of a solo backpacking trip, so there was no pep talk. But then when you are a movie freak, you will always find a travel movie to substitute that.

The Expectations

Becoming a travel writer, taking amazing photographs of streets and beautiful sceneries, talking to other travelers. The list of expectations was a lot longer than I can remember now.

I mean, these are the most basic things you got to experience when you are headed for a solo trip. To be honest, I had a basic DSLR camera, a diary, a book to read, and a ton of adventurous things that I wanted to do on the trip.

If nothing else, at the time I was just learning photography (by trial and error) and it was a great opportunity to come back with a ton of pics that I can surprise the world. Well, at least my friends and colleagues would see me like, “Damn boy, you did it”.

Even bought a pair of trousers for comfortable traveling. Obviously, I wanted to shout out to everyone that I was a solo traveler like being alone wasn’t good enough (Man, this is embarrassing).

So, my expectations were, photography, diary, read books, meet people, have good food, go on an adventure and take risks.

Where Did I Go?

So yeah, I decided to go. Go for 10 days. I thought it was too much for a first-timer but what the hell, will see, what’s the worse that can happen, right?

I decided to go to Rishikesh, one of the closest destinations to Delhi, India. In addition, if something didn’t work out, I could my ass back to Delhi in a jiffy.

Once decided, I made a leave application and quickly booked the train tickets. I did no other bookings, wanted to get a sense of how spontaneous travelers make it happen on the spot. Without further ado, left the office on a Saturday right after work. Headed to the train station, thanks to the unnatural traffic made it just in time, while the train started to slowly move.

Yup, that made me realize what Karina Kapoor would have felt in Jab we met.

The Beginning Of The Solo Backpacking Trip

Thinking and contemplating a million things to do when I arrive while I was trying to kill time in the train.

Once I arrived, I wanted to secure a place to stay, dump the bags and you know, the adventure begins. My recollection of Rishikesh was from nearly 15 years ago, where we camped at the riverside, that place filled with so many travelers. Getting all drunk at an evening bonfire.

Anyway, coming back to the present, or wait, it’s still the past. Anyway, again, I didn’t want to stay by the river because I had experienced that already wanted to live in the actual city which is known to attract solo travelers, backpackers, and hippies from all across the world.

Of course, I had no freakin’ clue how to find a place that was cheap, clean, and worth the money. I found that there are either cheap and dirty places or shiny and expensive resorts. Thanks to solo traveling experience (Zero) from the past, I had no clue what to go for.

Where On Earth, Am I Gonna Stay?

Already feeling disappointed, I thought, “Ek adrak wali chai” can solve many problems. While I had no place to stay just yet, I decided to get tea and think. The tea was great, but still wondering where to stay. Then the street vendor selling tea, “Sirji, where are you staying (Mr. where are you staying). Apparently, it’s a way to break the ice when seeing someone alone on the trip.

I said, I just arrived and still looking for a place to stay. To that, he replied, you can always stay in any of the Ashrams. I was like, whoa, living in an Ashram, no way.

He saw the look on my face, although I didn’t say anything. He insisted that I gave it shot, otherwise, over-budgeted resorts are always available. So, I walk into the first one, they said that don’t allow single men to stay, either women only or couples. I said, whatever.

The next one apparently was welcoming, they said it would cost me less than $7.00 for a day. Only one condition was that no meat, drugs, or alcoholic drinks were allowed. I was fine with that. To my surprise, the rooms were pretty darn clean and came with a view of the River.

A Solo backpacking trip to Rishikesh
The view of one side of Rishikesh on way towards the Ashram

The ashram had all sorts of pictures, statues, and paintings of Gods and Goddesses from Hindu mythology. I was pretty impressed with the artwork. People inside the ashram were either praying or meditating or performing yoga. I wasn’t much of a religious person, plus meditation sounded like an old man’s deal and well, yoga (I can’t do that crazy bone-breaking poses).

It was almost late evening. I decided to have an early dinner and call it a night.

An Eye Opener

Yes, I didn’t set an alarm to wake up early. Although, I am not sure if you got the hint because I didn’t.

I woke up to sounds of ringing bells from the temples around, Chanting on loudspeaker, some traditional singing of holy songs to contemporary ones.

That was understandable right, but what I couldn’t believe was that people in the Ashram found something really funny that they could throw their lungs out in the air, laughing. I mean come on, nothing can be that funny at 0530 hours. I wasn’t expecting to wake up that early on a vacation.

Of course, I couldn’t order a coffee through room service. I manage to drag my feet and get down a couple of flights of stairs. I noticed that there people out already in the open garden doing Yoga, men & women in all flexible poses. Finding that amusing was out of the question because I am still grumpy about waking up abruptly after 10 hours of sleep.

Then I convinced myself that, let me shower and get out of here and see how the solo trip’s gonna go from here.

The Adventure Begins

Ok so, had coffee, showered, dressed for the day trip and set to rock’n’roll.

I have also got my notes from the travel movies, seek adventure, meet a ton of people, and take amazing street pictures because Rishikesh is an amazing place if you ever want to try your hands on street photography.

Now the thought kicks, f*ck dude, you are an introvert and can’t do all the shit that people in movies do. I saw a galore number of travelers, barely bothered to talk to anyone, amazing opportunities to take street pictures but kept wondering about the fact that the entire street is looking back at you.

So I slide my camera sideways, and just went by the river decided to sit on the stairs and sulk for a little while.

My Realization: Although movies always are a great source of inspiration, life’s never like movies. In order to do all the things that you want to do, you don’t need inspiration from a movie. What you need is courage from within to experience the world, its beauty from an unbiased point of view.

Well, now was the time for another andrak wali chai (Ginger tea).

A Lifesaver

Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing that tea can’t solve. It can be a lifesaver in many cases. I went down to the same vendor, considering that he was friendly enough and directed me in the right direction of finding a place to stay.

Of course, I thanked him for it, what did you think introverts aren’t courteous.

Then I casually made a remark saying that it was peaceful and beautiful sitting near the river. To that, he replied, “Sir ji, if you don’t bring a little bit of peace and beauty with you, you won’t find it here”

That was like, whoa, the man said that’s quote worthy. It was going to be my Facebook status straightaway.

Since that broke the ice (again), I told him that he seemed like an insightful guy, quite helpful, and was always welcoming. I asked him a very inappropriate question, doesn’t he have other dreams to do something that he can be proud of or something that he’s passionate about.

He smiled and replied, I like serving tea. I can see how much stress it relieves and when people don’t know what to do or where to go, they always come looking for a Chai Wala (Tea Vendor). I think I serve the purpose here, plus, I get to meet so many people that teach me so much.

My Realization: It created a shift in my mindset, that just changed how I was feeling. In an instant, everything felt different. A Lesson from a very ordinary man taught me more than any book or a teacher. The Chai Wala became the Lifesaver.

A Brand New Day

Yep, the day before definitely started with a lot of disappointment. It ended with a different note altogether. With that, I decided to head out and make the best of the situation. I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to just go out and feel different, turn my solo backpacking trip into a movie-like scene.

I at least, thought that I would make an attempt to explore more and do the best “I” can.

One of the first things that I wanted to try was a little boat trip to cross the river. I thought it’d be a fun thing to experience.

River crossing on a boat in Rishikesh
River crossing on a boat.

Once I crossed the river, I decided to go to the other part of Rishikesh that I had been to, long time ago. I don’t recall much, but I knew that I could hire a shared vehicle and just get there.

At the taxi parking, I saw a couple struggling to manage a conversation with a taxi driver. It turned out that we were heading in the same direction. We agreed to split the bill and get there.

No, we didn’t have a lengthy conversation during the drive, I kept quiet. Pretending to read important stuff on my cell phone. I was relieved of the tension as soon as we arrived. Apparently, the couple didn’t have loose change to pay for the fare. The taxi driver was getting irritated. I offered to pay, it wasn’t very expensive. I would have paid that much to get here alone anyway.

They were quite grateful about that and insisted on buying lunch. It’s hard for me to say no, even though I hesitated but still said yes. We went to this famous café called “German Bakery”.

The Lunch & Yes, A Conversation

The girl was an American and the guy was from the Netherlands, they met online and started a long-distance relationship. They chose to come to India, to meet for the first time.

They’d been staying in Rishikesh for a little over a week now, gave me a bunch of places to go see. I am like how did you even find out about these places. They were like, we just asked. I am like, duh me.

They told me about incredible places to visit, the Ganga aarti, Beatles Ashram, and various cafes to try different food.

We left our own ways, I wanted to take their picture but shy ass didn’t let me. I thought, yeah, let’s just keep them in the memory. I kept wandering and just walking around the river, small lanes, and buying some souvenirs didn’t realize it got pretty late.

The shop owner saw that I was getting worried, he asked where I was staying. Then he said that I am going that way, I’ll drop you. That was like an angel that came to rescue, and he did.

My Realization: It takes very little to make someone’s day. You will always gain by giving and helping people. Finally, you can always ask people, you don’t have to do everything on your own, even thinking.

The Guru I Met

I got the list ready, of the things that I wanted to do that day. Visiting Beatles Ashram was incredible, technically it’s Maharishi’s Ashram but the rock’n’roll band stayed there, and apparently, it became popular with their name.

Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh
The graffiti is not from Beatles time, the locals keep sketching and grafting for art purposes.

I spent a substantial amount of time over there, no people, covered in art and nature just by the riverside. It was incredible. I was in the opposite direction of where I was staying, I thought I’d make my way back. It was a 4-5 miles walk.

Another stop at a different Tea stall, just to refresh my dying senses and for some energy to walk back. I noticed that there was some priest sitting at the same stall. People were treating him with the utmost respect and asking various spirituality-related questions.

In a few minutes, most people left. I wasn’t sure if he was a priest or some sort of Guru. That awkward silence around us forced me to ask a question. I turned my head to ask him the question before I did, he said yes, what do you want to know?

I would have stopped myself from asking the question if he hadn’t said that. Considering he said what he said, I now had to continue with the question.

How does one find happiness, like you know, true happiness, I asked. He laughed and said, doesn’t everybody want that?

Yeah, for sure. Then he said, the question people should be asking is, “Who’s stopping you from experiencing happiness”?

I had no comeback for that response, I chose to keep quiet. He paid his bill and slowly disappeared in the busy lanes. Everything around me turned standstill.

The Long Night

The best thing that can happen to a thinker is a long quiet walk. I went over the response over and over again, couldn’t fully process it. I still kept repeating that in my head over and over, until I found no answer inside. That told me that I was in for a long night.

Laying in bed, kept thinking about what it meant. I was afraid to confront myself with the fact that probably I was the one that held me from being happy. The thought just went over and over again, until my body just decided to shut down and fall asleep.

I wake up with the same thought in my head, almost felt like I was in bed awake all night.

Long Walks & The River

I spent most of the days, walking around the river, admiring the marvel, nature, and people, noticing how they interacted with the River. Some people came down to sit and watch the river flow. A few came with food for the fish, and a few came with offering and seeking a wish or a prayer come true.

Somehow, a lot of people believed that the river can solve all of their troubles. I mean, they weren’t wrong in thinking that. By just sitting by the river, it felt peaceful and seemed like all the troubles of mind chaotic mind were just fading in the slight mist that the river threw.

There were a bunch of people that came by for river-rafting too. That’s a very famous adventure thing to do.

I soon began to realize that the days were going pretty good. It wasn’t as bad as I was thinking. You know, there are always things that others enjoy and if I forced myself to enjoy those things, I am always going to be disappointed with the outcome.

It was moments like these that made me think that I would gladly enjoy being by myself with peace and solace. Finally, it was starting to feel like my solo backpacking trip was beginning to make sense. So much alone time made me go through various emotions, that I had failed to observe before.

Some of those emotions were unpleasant to deal with at the time and some I had to face to make peace with what I was going through at the time.

The Ganga Aarti

If you are ever on a solo backpacking trip to Rishikesh or even with friends. One of the things that you have to visit is and witness is the Ganga Aarti.

The couple I met during the early days of the trip. I was never a fan of any sort of religious gatherings or rituals. However, they were passionate about their experience. So I thought, I’ll keep that one for last. In case I had other things to do, then I wouldn’t guilty of missing it out.

Oh man, it was one of the most amazing experience I had. Not from a religious point of view, but from observing people and how lost they were in the chanting and they appeared completely lost in the ceremony. It seemed blissful.

Aarti during my Solo Backpacking Trip
Aarti during my Solo Backpacking Trip
Aarti during my Solo Backpacking Trip
Aarti during my Solo Backpacking Trip
Aarti during my Solo Backpacking Trip

I was glad that I had a telephoto lens, so I could take some pictures from the distance and not have to shove the camera on devotees’ faces. There were other photographers too, it made me comfortable that not everyone is just looking at me.

Ganga Aarti happens riverside every evening. The cold breeze and plenty of lights with all sorts of chants, it’s something that one should experience at least once for sure.

The Overall Trip

The overall solo backpacking trip turned out pretty decent for the first-timer. It also opened my eyes to several things that I wasn’t willing to face with all the distractions in my life. Whatever that forced me to take the trip, I am glad it happened.

In most cases, you would be ok in front of other people even when you are not. When you are left alone to face your emotions and feelings, it could easily overwhelm you and leave you all bent out of shape.

In addition, I also realized that our lives can be full of expectations from ourselves. However, having expectations based on someone else experience and perception will constantly lead to disappointments.

We are all individual people with unique identities, feelings, and other characteristics. We need to be able to acknowledge those, accept them as they are because that’s what separates us from everyone else.

Sometimes the only through is through. Taking off the band-aid is important, some do it slowly and some just rip it off.

This solo backpacking trip did open so many boxes that I would have probably delayed for a longer period of time. It did change my life in many ways, more importantly, it set me in the direction that led me to other adventures in the future.

I am glad that you guys made it till here, I wasn’t sure if anyone was willing to read this long ass post.

Thank you…

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8 months ago

Wow, this is amazing. I love this. I did not know you could stay in an Ashram. I love the terms and conditions they put it in order to keep it safe and clean. I feel like you got lucky with the chai wala you guided you to them. I love the irony in not wanting to travel solo while being an introvert (you just made me realize this). I wouldn’t enjoy traveling alone that’s for sure. But damnnn boy, you actually did it. You had your solo trip and it was worth it. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story… Read more »

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