Being alone or choosing to be alone is a concept that many of us find hard to grasp. Unfortunately, very often, it is confused with and misconstrued as, loneliness; a feeling of being unwanted or rejected by others.
But that is far, far from the truth. Choosing to experience something alone is beautiful. If anything, it liberates you. You encounter incidents and meet people in ways you never can when you’re with someone else. Which is why, sometimes, it is also the best way to travel.
This year, in January, I went on a trip to Goa and Gokarna. For my stay in Gokarna, I had booked a bed in a female dorm at a hostel called Zostel. And that was one of my best decisions.
I chose to get to Gokarna via train from Goa. I thought I would land in Goa and take the cab to Madgaon station. But when I landed, I saw a long, serpentine queue leading right up to the prepaid taxi counter! I knew that if I waited for a cab, there was no chance I would get to the station in time. Besides, it was super expensive. I roamed around a bit and asked two CISF officials what the best way to get to Madgaon would be. After consulting each other, they said, “Madam, aap ek kaam kijiye, pilot pakad leejiye. Vo aapko Vasco station mein chodega, jahaan se 3.30 ko ek train Madgaon ke liye nikalti hai. Taxi waise bhi bohot expensive hai. Yehi best option hai.” (I suggest you take a pilot to Vasco railway station, from where a train for Madgaon departs at 3.30 pm).
Pilots, for those of you who don’t know, are two-wheeler taxis in Goa. I looked at the time and realised with a start that it was 2.45 pm! I ran outside and bumped into a benevolent pilot driver, who, all the way, kept telling me how taxis are super expensive, and that I was lucky to have gotten a pilot for Rs 150. I took in the sights of Goa — beautiful old houses, a few churches, auntys in dresses.
And then, I got the train and reached Madgaon with a lot of time to kill.
If you know anything about Indian Railways, you will know that trains, more often than not, are late. My ride, that was supposed to reach Gokarna at around 6.30 pm, finally reached at 7.30 pm. Now, it may not sound like a great amount of delay, but it became dark outside. Naturally, I was a little anxious.
When I reached Gokarna — actually, scratch that. I didn’t realise that I had reached Gokarna because it was pitch dark outside and one side of the railway station had no lights. The platform on this side was almost non-existent. The only reason I knew I had reached was because I asked a fellow passenger when we would arrive at Gokarna. After getting off, I felt super spooked, because the station was quite deserted. All auto drivers were standing at the entrance, waiting for passengers. I approached a guy who wore black, that symbolised he was an Ayyappa Swami devotee (Giving ‘taking the black’ a whole new meaning, amirite?).
The ride to Zostel could have been spooky but it felt surreal. There was barely any traffic most of the way. Nor were there any street lights. All I could make out of the side of the roads were silhouettes of trees and bushes, that were illuminated by the pale moon light.
Finally, I reached the hostel. Music greeted me the moment I stepped into the premises. That night, I met a girl, Akshata, who was also on a solo trip. We decided to head out the next day together to explore the beaches nearby.
In the morning, I woke up to this sight.
After freshening up, we asked the very friendly and helpful manager what our route should be. He suggested that we walk down via Kudle Beach to Om beach, and take a boat to Half-Moon Beach and Paradise Beach. It was quite hot, and by the time we reached Om Beach, we were kind of baked. After some haggling and waiting for more passengers (who, unfortunately, turned out to be a bunch of super annoying, loud middle-aged men) to board the boat, we set off towards Paradise Beach.
But midway, our boatman cut the engine. When we looked up quizzically at him, he pointed the sea and said, ‘Dolphins’. And sure enough, there they were, their pointy snouts appearing and disappearing as they jumped around with abandon. I, for one, couldn’t believe my luck! I didn’t waste my time trying to click pictures because it would have been utterly useless. Soon, they disappeared altogether.
Finally, we reached Paradise Beach, which was mostly deserted, except for about 20 odd people, a majority of whom were foreigners pitched up in tents. There were breathtaking views and graffiti on rocks, giving philosophical advice.
After chilling for a while, we decided it was time to leave. On the boat ride back, I struck up an easy conversation with a guy who was in the tent at Paradise Beach, about dolphins, about Gokarna and Goa and which was better and how seas and hills are a perfect combination. Soon, we reached Om Beach and went our separate ways.
During the evening, a stroll down Kudle Beach threw up some of the most interesting views — foreigners selling all kinds of knick-knacks on mere pieces of cloth on the ground, right from handmade jewellery and natural deodorants to weird skull-like rings. But I noticed how they felt perfectly at home here — and at peace. Some just sat staring at the sea, others got together and started an impromptu jamming session that most were only too happy to sit by and listen to.
As darkness fell, Akshata and I saw an Indian guy rapping with the foreigners in Hindi! We were mighty impressed and amused. After their… let’s say memorable performance, we went back to the hostel, only to find that the rapper and his friends, who were from Delhi, were staying at Zostel too!
That night, Akshata, the three guys from Delhi, a slightly older man, two other guys and I stayed up till 3 am. First, we played dumb-charades. And then got around to talking. The ‘why do you love travelling solo’ questions eased everyone up.
The rapper dude turned out to be an artist and was to perform in Goa. He was trying to set up an art show in Delhi. There was another guy, who I think was in merchant navy.
But it was the older man who shared a very personal story: “I’ve always loved travelling solo, and I didn’t want that to stop after marriage. So I had told my wife that once or twice a year, I would go on trips alone. The first time, she was okay. The second, she hesitated but was okay with me going. Third time she was visibly uncomfortable with the idea of me going alone. ‘Take me also’, she would say. Now, I didn’t want to hurt her but I love solo travelling too much. So I lie to her. I tell her that I am off on official work, and travel where I please. I love the exposure it gives me, meeting new people like all of you. It’s not the same when you’re with someone you know.”
It’s true. I doubt I would have had the same experience had I gone with someone I know. Travelling with friends and family is great, but going solo makes you step out of your comfort zone. You speak to more people, have newer experiences.
Funny thing is, all those people I met? I don’t remember any of their names. We didn’t exchange numbers, nor did we add each other on Facebook. We just met, spoke and exchanged ideas. All we did was create memories.
And for me, that’s enough.
(The blog first appeared in The Mediocre Blog.)