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Travelling Solo in India: Three For A Beginner

A Big City, A Backpackers Haven and a National Park

A three step itinerary to get you used to travelling alone. You may never want company again!

Traveling Alone

There is so much pleasure to be had from travelling alone! As the MBRB Editors (and some of our favourite contributors) will tell you, there is really nothing quite like waking up in a new city on a schedule that is entirely your own. No dawdling over museums of someone else’s choice (or hurrying through the art that speaks to you), no pausing for diaper changes, no adjusting your preference of food for the vegan, the locavore or the steak lover, no following someone else’s schedule at all.

But for some reason there’s a part of us which fears seeing the unknown without the familiar by our side. And that is why, for those of you who are hesitant to take this journey, MBRB has selected three easy first solo trips within the country.

A couple of quick pointers:

a. Safety First:  If you’re not sure something is right for you, don’t do it. Days are better than nights and crowded places better than lonely view points. Just do what seems to make most sense to you. Also, the one thing we highly recommend is to arrange pickups from stations/bus stands/ airports. If the first person you see in a new place is trustworthy you will just feel more comfortable.

b. Take pictures, keep a diary. You won’t have anyone else telling you “remember when?”

c. Take that detour. If you see a cafe that seems worth spending an entire afternoon in, or find another fellow traveller who suggests a nearby hike, or you just like the beds in your hotel and want to sleep in till noon – take that leap! The best part of traveling alone is not having to adhere to any plan at all!

Test the waters with one of these suggestions, and then go ahead and get lost in any town of your choosing, because sometimes the best way to find bliss is to lose yourself completely.

Stage 1- The Big City You’ve Been Meaning to See: Pune

Unlike Kangna Ranaut in Queen, you don’t have to get into an aeroplane to a different land to find your liberation!

If you’ve never visited Pune as a tourist, begin here. Comparatively safe, with large leafy parks, plenty of foreign tourists and backpackers (and hence clean hostels), and tons of small eateries, it is the kind of place that can slowly settle you into traveling alone. Only those who don’t need to queue up for the hotel bath with family  can get ready in time to queue up outside Chitale Bandhu for its amba barfi or outside Kayani’s for its Shrewsbury Biscuits. While it is easy to get a taxi to take you to Lonavla nearby for a day trip and a hike we’d much rather you take the 2 hour Volvos which operate almost throughout the day, and cost only INR 200/-. We are also oddly fond of the Aga Khan Palace and its wonderful gardens for an afternoon sojourn into Indian History

The shops close early (really early) but the restaurants and beer bars especially in the Koregaon area stay open till late, and you may be surprised to notice that you’re not the only single woman traveller sitting down for a cup of soup and bread in the evening.

Also recommended: Kolkata, Cochin

Stage 2- The Backpacker Haven: Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj

Dharamsala Tibetan Prayer Flags

The most difficult part of getting to Dharamsala/ McLeod Ganj alone used to be the journey to the place. You could take a bus all the way from Delhi, which while safe was uncomfortably long;  and the train to Pathankot just meant haggling with dodgy taxi operators for hours for the final 100 km. While both of those remain a viable (and safe-ish) option, you might now be better off just taking the morning Alliance Air flight to Dharamsala.

Once in McLeod Ganj, even the furthest places are navigable on foot (some may take a little longer than the other); and you are free to explore on your own. The influx of foreign tourists means that you are likely to notice more luxe sights and products in the McLeod Ganj market than in Connaught Place, but a short walk to the Tsuglagkhang Complex transports you to a different world where monks debate and meditate with each other, prayer flags fly in every direction and an air of tranquility abides. Dharamsala also has some of the most wonderful cafes, where sitting alone with your Lonely Planet or Murakami (or Danielle Steele) is par for the course whether you are eating a hot bowl of Thukpa with the ‘acquired’ taste of Tibetan butter tea, or enjoying vegan and gluten free snacks prepared by a settled expat. If you are ready to extend your solo travel for a little bit longer consider volunteering with one of the many opportunities available at the LHA, and become a part of an international community of solo backpackers/travellers.

Also Recommended: Rishikesh, Pondicherry

Stage 3- A National Park: Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga Rhino

Surprisingly, National Parks can be one of the best places in the world to travel alone. By design, most of your exploring is done in groups with a guide. The State Governments have typically made perfectly comfortable and adequate accommodations near the parks  (In the case of Kaziranga, we especially recommend the Iora Retreat for its proximity to the safari, and because we think hotels are safer than some of the cottage resorts nearby). The tourists include a nice mix of young adventurers, boisterous families (whose chatter can be a downside), and stuffy business groups pretending to let loose. Kaziranga is especially lovely because it isn’t as overrun by tour guides and touts as some of the other more crowded parks. The only thing you need to do is to book your passage from Guwahati to the park with a trustworthy operator in time. But the main reason we recommend it for exploring alone  is because it’s one of those places that every one wants to see but that always gets missed out when travelling in families or big groups.

If you’re a photography aficionado, the bio-diversity of the North East is something to behold (where else would you get a chance to capture five different kinds of eagles in flight). Even if you’re not, the chance to see a rhino in its habitat is one that you don’t easily forget.

 Also Recommended: Kanha

There, now that you’ve seen these three places, you are ready to explore further. Throw a dart against the map or spin that globe, and take off to wherever you fancy. Its easier when you have no baggage!

When was the last time you took a trip alone? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear your solo travel stories and to learn from your experiences!

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Find more inspiration in our Travel section, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB!
Dharamsala Photo Credit: lukexmartin via Compfight cc

Kaziranga Photo Credit: yathin via Compfight cc

Featured Image Photo Credit: ChrisGoldNY via Compfight cc

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