Why Solo and why NOW ?
I have been travelling right from my childhood days with family and with friends – after the 2-year stay at a military school . I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it and would always look forward to the next one.
However, things seemed to change from the last couple of years. Family trips were more often than not to the “divine destinations” and trips with friends were more about the “trip” and “high“. For a teetotaller who is almost an atheist, I started to feel the stretch and emptiness of travelling in these two extremes. That’s when the first thoughts of solo travel crossed my mind. But those were still “thoughts”, I still hadn’t figured out where, when, how etc.
From the time I started my corporate job – back in 2006, I have been observing people make a lot of hue and cry about their (and their loved ones’) birthday celebrations – especially the female clan. It had to be big, very big and a lot of people should visibly put in a lot of effort in the planning and execution !! Otherwise it just wasn’t a “birthday“. A popular stand-up comedian recently summarized this beautifully. Before you start wondering if I have lost my plot – my birthday was round the corner, office was relatively calm, the travelling season in India was about to begin – I told myself this was it, the perfect opportunity to experience “solo travel” !!
The Planning :
Being my first solo travel, I didn’t want to experiment a lot by choosing a completely new, unknown destination. The few things I absolutely wanted to do was – watch the sun set into the endless sea from a beach and/or a hill and the other being train-travel. I always envied the person on the side-lower berth – I wanted to be on that seat.
For everyone staying in the western part of India wanting to do both these things, the first obvious choice is – GOA. Tickets were booked almost immediately and the search for the hotel began. Like most other decisions of my life thus far, I was absolutely sure of what I didn’t want – to be in crowded, noisy places full of smoke !! South Goa was the obvious choice. Thanks to my current organization for introducing me to the beauty and peace of South Goa – I knew I desperately wanted that !!
Being from the typical Indian-middle-class family and of course with my staunch aversion to grand birthday celebrations, I kind of knew how much I wanted to spend on this outing. I managed to find a beautiful looking B-n-B hotel in South Goa pretty much in my budget. The only thing I was worried about was – what if its not how it looks in the pics. I checked and re-checked the reviews on multiple sites and convinced myself I had made the right choice.
Disclosing The Plan :
By now my excitement had reached a tipping point and I so badly wanted to share this with everyone. But going by my past experiences, I knew I had to keep my emotions in check. Of course I still ended up disclosing it to a few close friends. Feedback ranged from amusement, ignorance, the ‘have-you-totally-lost-it‘ looks to “you-will-be-bored-to-death” and “ek-din-me-bhag-aayega” !!
Then there were those who assumed the obvious – I will be accompanied by a “special someone”. And still others who thought I had “wild things” on the card. They couldn’t or probably didn’t want to believe that a 32-year-old would want to celebrate his 33rd – alone in Goa.
That told me if this is what my friends feel, no points for guessing how my family would react. So they were told what they needed to know in a manner they like.
And thus, in more ways than one, I was ready for “solo travel” !!
No words can describe the amazing feeling, that adrenaline rush of doing something very special, something that you have planned, prepared and waited for so desperately. The last time I felt this was when I did a short solo-skydiving course in the UK – those 5 jumps will always remain very, very special !!
However, as I left office for the train station, a strange sense of vulnerability took over me. I almost immediately realized what solo travel is all about. In my mind, I started giving myself crisis situations – Situation Reaction Tests as we used to call them back in the military school – and corresponding solutions. I had removed the only gold ornament I ever wear – no its not the ring – at home, was carrying only one ATM debit card with just about 10K in balance. Had only one backpack which left both my hands free and had enough identity proofs with me.
Even with friends or family, I don’t like to be rushed and put in panic mode. This was for me and by me, I ensured I reached the station well before time. The train was also delayed a bit which reduced my anxiety even further. I started cherishing the moment and the surroundings. I didn’t want to spend more time on the phone and web for more reasons than one – I wanted to look within and outside but not into my phone on this trip and secondly, I wanted to ensure the phone was charged all along the journey – just in case there was a crisis situation and I had to contact / be contacted.
Boarded the train. Someone had occupied my “side-lower berth” and wanted me to adjust. I asserted that I did not wish to adjust and fortunately for me that person left my seat – all in good faith. Close shave but a very good start to my travel – I said to myself !! Made myself comfortable in the seat and the wheels rolled !!
It was dusk and as luck would have it, I had the setting sun on my window !!
The anxiety was giving way to the peace and calm I so eagerly was looking for. I was already feeling proud of trusting my instincts and taking this decision. By the time it was dark, I had completely settled in. I had decided not to doze off to sleep because I didn’t want to miss a single bit of this journey.
It was 0700 hrs. when I got down at Margao station – and the anxiety was back !! I knew I had to rent a scooter but online searches didn’t give me any credible contacts. So I had to look for them now – alone. Standing on the foot-over bridge of the station I was wondering which way to go – left or right ?! I did the most obvious thing we do when we are alone – went where most people were going. There was something very beautiful about this feeling of anxiety – it was telling me a lot about myself.
My first close interaction with someone on this trip. Boarded a shared cab to reach the point where the bike rental shops were. An Uncle, well into his post-retirement years started the conversation – Are you from Delhi, why are you here, how long are you here, where are you going to stay etc. etc. He seemed genuinely interested but I was a bit skeptical and cautious – didn’t want to disclose too many details to him or to the other persons sitting in the cab. So I told him I was alone for now but friends would be joining me in some time – the standard ans I am going to give in all my future solo travels as well.
His next question was how are you going to reach your destination. To which I responded in a rather matter-of-fact way that I’ll rent a scooter from here. His immediate reaction was – “Roads in Goa are very very dangerous. So many people die here, especially the tourists. Don’t do that, use the bus”
Though his concern and advice was genuine, I was immediately reminded of another stand-up comedy act wherein the speaker has commented a lot about such “Uncles” who keep throwing such cynical comments. I was both angry and amused at the same time but just nodded to stop the conversation there itself.
I was dropped at the city center of Margao, which was completely deserted at 0730 AM. I was preparing myself to spend at least 2 hrs before I could get hold of a scooter. But I decided to keep moving around in search rather than just wait. And that bit paid off, found a bike-pilot who also had some scooters on rent. I was very relived and happy with myself – on most occasions I would have just waited till 9-10AM for all the shops to open. But here I was on my first solo trip, doing a lot of good things for the first time. A bit of bargain ensued, at the end of which both of us rejected each other’s base prices and agreed on a rate that made both of us feel victors over the other – 1000 Rs. for 3 days !!
I also understood that these vehicles are not rented like hotel rooms, which can be returned the next day – they are rented for morning to evening. So for two nights, I had to pay the charge for three days. I still need to confirm if this is how it works normally.
The scooter was quite new, had a black n yellow no. plate – which is how rented vehicles should be by law. The rent included the helmet as well. I thoroughly checked the scooter in front of the vendor, took pics just to record how it was at the time of handing over to me and agreed with him of the existing damages on the bike. This way I made sure I will not be fooled into paying for damages not caused by me !!
Morning At The Beach:
The advantage of reaching in the early morning hours was there was very less traffic in the city. I had packed the handsfree of my phone for this moment, started the navigation on Google maps and listened to the instructions on the go. This made driving very easy and safe, I didn’t have to risk my safety by keeping the phone in one hand while driving. Whenever in doubt, I used to stop by the side to confirm I was on the right track, although these moments were very very less. It also gave me a feeling of being a rally driver of sorts with someone guiding me constantly.
My hotel was near the Cavelossim beach which is about 20kms south of Margao – about 45 mins drive. I thoroughly enjoyed riding in the pleasant early morning sun, traffic free and nicely paved roads of Goa. By 0820 AM, I was at the doorstep of my hotel. Of course they had allowed early check-in only after 1000 AM. I just wanted to check the location and head to the nearest beach.
And so I did – to the Cavelossim beach. This was it, this was what I had traveled all night for – being on the beach in Goa – all alone. It was a very pleasant morning on a huge beach with very very less people – exactly how I wanted it to be. I took a long walk on both sides of beach. I was loving every moment of this. But then I hadn’t had a proper meal from the last 12 hrs. So it was time for a proper heavy breakfast. So I walked up to one of the 2 shacks on the beach. They said they would serve food only after 0900 AM but they were fine with me sitting there. I sat facing the sea – it was the first time since I got down from the train that I was completely relaxed and stress free. I had found myself a perfect place to relax until check-in time, there was food and privacy – everything I wanted at that time. Breakfast came in time and what a sight it was.
I spent the next few hours in the same shack reading about the Rafale controversy, answering my birthday wishes and sharing the pic of my breakfast to all those who were going to office on a Thursday morning !!
The Hotel Room:
Right, so this was yet another moment of truth – had I made the right choice or was I going to repent planning this adventure ??!! I had two full days and two full nights to spend and my hotel room was going to be a very very important part of that stay.
I had selected the Treebo Dempo River Sal – a small 22 room hotel-cum-resort on the banks of the river Sal. Based on the reviews online, I had booked a deluxe room – a river facing room and not the cheapest room. As suggested in the reviews, I had also called up the hotel to confirm they had allotted a river-facing room. Salvino, the guy at the reception, instantly remembered our conversation over the phone and appreciated me for checking up-front. He pointed out that most guests would book the cheapest room online (which was NOT river facing) and then argue with the staff for cheating them!! I gave a small, imaginary, pat-on-the-back to myself for doing yet another thing right. I was led to the room and lo behold …………………………….
This was EXACTLY as it seemed in the pictures. My happiness knew no bounds. The last 16 hours or so, probably the most critical part of my journey, had turned out to be absolutely wonderful – culminating with such a beautiful room with an even more beautiful view. I couldn’t have gifted myself a better birthday present and I was glad I had not made anyone else work hard and plan this for me.
This was all by me and for me !! I was really happy with myself.
I was now in complete control of my first solo travel – with the scooter and room sorted and how !! Every moment from now on – I was the one who would be calling the shots and that was a tremendous empowering feeling. After a nice, refreshing bath, I had lunch at the hotel itself. It was not covered in the room charges and had to be paid for separately. Well, I was in Goa and I was only going to have FISH…..
My birthday – my first solo travel was just getting better with every passing minute. I dived into the amazing looking fish curry and rice and also relished the delicious fish fry- all alone. Close to 24 hrs. into my trip and I still was not missing any sort of company – I was definitely on the right path !!
With the scooter, room and two meals of the day sorted, it was time to relish the beautiful room – more so because it was just so hot and humid to wander outside. Plus I hadn’t slept well last night on the train. So off I dozed away to glory !!
Only after I hit the bed did I realize how badly I wanted to sleep. So much so that I started contemplating not going to the beach in the evening. I was literally in two minds – both options were equally alluring. I finally managed to pull myself out of the bed and got ready for a stroll on the beach. The catch here was – though the physical distance to the nearest beach was just under 2 kms., I had to take the longer (about 10 kms) route to reach the beach since that was the only way to cross the river which I could see through my window. But I had nothing to complain – the fuel tank was completely full and I had to ensure I finish it in the two days. Off I started in the direction of the beach with the help of Google Maps assisting me through my handsfree.
Midway on the road to the beach, I stopped to capture this beautiful scenery…..
Finally I was on the beach just in time for the sunset I so desperately wanted to see for a long long time…..
I was really happy I did not waste the evening sleeping away in my room no matter how cozy it may have been. This is what I had come for !! I spent the next couple of hours on this beach, finished a large tumbler of ice-tea from one of these shacks….
…….and finally returned to my room around 2100 hrs. – not risking myself by being out in the dark all alone !!
DAY – 2:
With a more than perfect birthday celebration done, it was time to wander some more. I had selected the Cabo De Rama fort which was further south of my hotel. Reason for selecting a fort was pretty simple – I just can’t get enough of watching the sun set into the sea from a vantage point. So after having a nice breakfast in the hotel, I was off again with the usual stuff (Google Maps, handsfree) to Cabo De Rama. The ride upto the fort is one amazing ride. With the beautifully paved roads and the lush green surroundings, it was as good as any British countryside !! The fort in itself doesn’t have much to offer neither does it have an accessible vantage sunset point. However, I had done the homework and knew the sunset point was not very far-off from the fort. It was an extremely humid day and by noon, I was sweating profusely. Relief came when I hit the sunset point – the edge of a small cliff – where the cool breeze felt a lot more soothing. I spent some time doing a recce of the place to finalize my spot for watching the sunset. Once that was sorted, I decided to cool-off in the shacks nearby……
This was such a soothing place that for a moment I thought of waiting here until sunset -which was still more than 3 hours away. But eventually decided against it, went back to my room – charged my cell phone and myself with a power nap. This sunset point is quite secluded and hence I knew I had to return from there before dark. I reached the cliff in time for the sunset and treated myself with some amazing views …..
It was the last night of my first solo travel. I returned to my room and kept going through all the pics over and over again trying to relive and cherish every single moment. Everything had gone better than expected, there was absolutely nothing to complain. Not even for a moment did I regret being alone. Everybody who didn’t believe I would come out of this happier had started accepting even they wanted to try this some day. Some were already regretting thinking it was too late for them to do a solo travel !!
Me…… I was just oscillating between the hangover of my perfect birthday celebrations and the plans for my next solo travel destination.
This journey back home was going to be one of the most soothing ones……….