Off late, have you been cancelling your holiday plans because everyone around you is too busy to accompany you on the trips? Then, it is high time that you stop postponing your plans and do what you have only imagined in your thoughts all these years – solo travelling. At first, the whole idea of travelling alone might give you a few jitters, but trust me, as you start thinking more about it, all the doubts and negative thoughts would simply fade away. And, once you clear that stage, you are ready for the adventure called Solo Travel. But before you embark on such a trip, first you need to decide on your destination. So, read on and know about some of the top destinations in India, where you can travel completely on your own.

The desert mountain valley of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh is as much an ideal destination for adventurers as it is for the solitude seekers. Nestled high up in the Himalayan Mountains, the scenic Spiti Valley presents wonderful opportunities for moderate to difficult trekking expeditions as well as Jeep safaris. However, those who wish to stay away from such adrenaline-pumping activities and spend their time peacefully exploring the region should opt for a homestay experience. This can be done at any of the six villages of Spiti, namely Demul, Langza, Dhankar, Kibber, Lhalung and Komik. On an average, each of this village has up to three homestays with each having one guest bedroom that can accommodate one or two people. These homestays are basically village homes, with one of their portions converted into comfortable guestrooms. These have been developed by the locals to generate an alternative and sustainable source of income for themselves.

I associate May, especially the May of North India (non-Himalayan regions) with searing heat, dryness and perpetual sweating. But, as they say, “Every cloud has a silver lining”, May is also the time when most schools close for vacations and you finally have the time to go someplace. Most of us visit our grandparents and sit in their house, often doing nothing. I personally never liked going to Lucknow and staying there for 1-1.5 months. We hardly ever went out because it was hot; even after the sun set, there was little respite. The only silver lining there was that I had a cousin, with whom I would run around the house or play cricket in the backyard, but we grow up after a while and feel no excitement in such things.

Did you know tea drinking in India was prevalent since 750 BC? However, it was not tea per say, but more of a vegetable dish that consisted of tea leaves, oil and garlic. Technically, India was introduced to tea by some officers of the British army, who started tea cultivation here with seeds brought from China. This led to a revolution, and by the end of the 19th century, tea produced in Darjeeling and some parts of Assam were exported to different parts of the world, especially Britain. Slowly and steadily, this revolution spread across the entire Himalayan foothills and other parts of the country.

Ask any 20-something about what they cherish the most and see them talk lovingly about weekends. Yes, weekends are truly the best! From extroverts who love to socialise with just about everyone to introverts who prefer to stay back in the familiar comfort of their home, weekends are fervently awaited by each of us. They are after all the only two days in a week when we can ignore work-related mails and focus on ourselves and our loved ones. It is that magical period of time which makes us feel that we were not born to just work, pay taxes and leave the world without having lived at all. Whatever our idea of a good time may include, a weekend is when we indulge ourselves in what we love.

Don’t know about you, but 2016 was amazing for me. I started the year with a bang, and that’s how it ended. Doesn’t it feel great when everything falls into place and all your dreams are realised just as you wanted them?! I hope it does not sound like I am bragging, but I get excited just thinking about it. Some moments that I had been longing for ever since I can remember, happened in the past few months. Here is an account of things that I checked off my bucket list this year:

What goes in your mind, when you read about someone else’s adventurous trekking expedition, especially in the Himalayas? Do you hear an inner calling? Does your heart and mind tell you that someday, you too should do this? Then, what is stopping you? Every year, thousands of amateur trekkers go on their first expedition into the Himalayas. All that one requires is a basic physical fitness level, necessary trekking equipment, a bit of mental strength and loads of zeal. We have listed down a few trekking trails in the Himalayas that are perfect for beginners like you. Read on to know about them so that you can start planning your impending desire to trek in the Himalayas.

Bestowed with dense forests and charming tea gardens, the town attracts thousands of tourists round the year, not just from parts of India but abroad as well. A place that promises a perfect escape from the hustle bustle of the city, the town of Bir offers numerous outdoor activities and thrilling sports; thus making it equally popular among tranquillity seekers, adventurous souls and nature lovers.

Life is a journey. In this long voyage, you meet people, make acquaintances and then continue on your way. But, some people are such that their memory remains with us forever. The same can be said about places. You visit tens and hundreds of places in your life, if not thousands, but the memory of only a few of those stays. Bhabha Pass in the Spiti Valley is one such place, a trip to which one just wouldn’t forget.

One has different shades of blue and snowy peaks to allure you and the other takes you close to the world’s highest peak. Still wondering which teahouse trek to go for first? Everest base camp is a dream for anyone who gets into the flavour of trekking, Everest being the world’s highest scalable mountain peak. Annapurna main of the mighty Annapurna range is the 10th highest peak in the world. Not many know that the toughest peak to scale is also The Annapurna main and not K2.

The Everest is undeniably majestic! The world’s highest mountain overlooks the world from an altitude of more than 29000 feet above sea level. This is the highest you can get without your feet leaving the ground. I have been fascinated by it, ever since I saw it first in my general knowledge book, when I was in school. At that time, I didn’t really know the true magnificence of the giant, but over the years, as I have learnt about Everest and the Everest region, I have become more and more intrigued by it.

Little did I know that my short adventure trek to Chopta will turn out to be the adventure of a lifetime! I could so much relate to a quote that I read recently by Lin Yutang, “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow”. But for me it was more like an adventure which I survived and at that moment all I wanted to do was to go home and be warm and comfortable!

The only reason that this trek is so close to my heart and I will remember it forever is because I remember how I almost gave up! I gave up on walking further, to save myself from all the pain. It’s good to travel in a group sometimes. If I was on a solo trek I would have been stuck somewhere in the mountains. Not that I mind that, but I would have been surely hopelessly lost!

After much chaos and last minute cancellations, I somehow embarked on my journey to the Land of Llamas! It was more of a photographic journey than a road trip! I tried to capture every moment of the trip to avoid regretful moments later. This kind of backpacking and pre-booked trip turned out to be the best of all my travels! It was probably the first time that I pre-booked the hotels and the car; I can still reminisce the baffled voice of the driver when I was trying to explain to him a different and a new route to reach Ladakh, but somehow he understood.

“Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.” ― Freya Stark

This line pretty much sums up the kind of person Freya Stark was. She believed in travelling unimaginable distances, seeing endless possibilities, even when most could see none. For those of you, who don’t know who this wonderful woman was, she was a British-Italian traveller and explorer, renowned for her writings about the Middle East. Her parents are known to have been quite liberal, resulting in her knowing numerous languages as a child, even though she never went to school.

What comes to your mind when I say the word, ‘August’? Let me tell you what comes to my mind. As soon as I hear this word, I think of heavy rain showers, cool breeze and greenery. The idea of trekking in August, usually when the monsoon is at its peak, came to my mind when my friend commented in one of our conversations, “You don’t go for trekking during the monsoon!” My spontaneous reply to him was “Why not?”, and then he was silent.

The question sure may have got him thinking, but I was thinking a lot about it too. Why do people not go for trekking in August, which is only beautiful and soothing? That day, as soon as I reached home, I started researching on “trekking in the monsoon.” My search made me realise something.

Reading has always been my most favourite thing to do. I remember reading with a torch inside the sheet, way past my bedtime as a kid. Even today, no matter how busy I am in life, I never go to sleep without a book. And when someone reads as much as I do, it becomes impossible for them to not want to travel. In my experience, all my bookworm friends, (that is quite literally all my friends) are fond of travelling. The inverse might not be true; all travellers may not be readers, but trust me when I say that almost all readers are travellers and backpackers. When we read something, our mind creates images of those things side by side and therefore all these years of reading about faraway places has awakened a side of me that craves adventures in unknown places. Though I have not travelled as much as I would like to, owing to demands of school and work, whenever I can squeeze out a break of a few days, I totally go for it. And when I do get to travel, I almost always find myself planning a trip to the mountains.

One of my very first getaways to the mountains was in Manali. It was the second year of my college, and I was just getting used to my new-found freedom! So three of my buddies and I decided to spend a few days of our semester-end break doing nothing, but travelling. It is important to mention that since we were quite young and inexperienced, we chose a destination closer to home and Himachal Pradesh was as far as we could have gone from Delhi at that time. Nonetheless, it was a dream-come-true for all of us as this was our first vacation ever without the constant restrictions imposed by our parents! Upon reaching Manali and spending two days in sightseeing and clicking thousands of pictures, we started to look for something else, something more adventurous to do. And when you are in the mountains for the first time, there is nothing better than trekking to give you that sweet taste of adrenaline. Dev Roopa trek’s surreal beauty helped us zero in on the destination and what came then is still etched in my memory.

Read on to know more about this trek on which nature presents itself clad in its finest of attires.

I have always travelled with my close friends, but this time I wanted to explore the world from a different perspective and travel solo. At first, it felt like a challenge to me more than a dream come true, it was like some big mission I had to accomplish! The scepticism delayed my plans. I started to feel like travelling alone and that too being a woman was a taboo. But then I had to break the barriers and do what I felt was right.

And then the magic happened! I found myself lying under the inky blue sky clustered with stars in the Spiti Valley. The solitaires of sky were shining bright above the snowy mountains! My luck took me there on a full moon night which made the mountains appear like silver. This is one experience I can never ever forget! Until now, I was scared of darkness. But out there under the starry sky which seemed like a painting of Van Gogh, I learned that there is more to night beyond darkness. The temperature was 8 degrees below zero, and I took out my warmest shawl which I had bought from Nagaland, and sat outside the tent for a few more minutes just to take in the exquisite beauty of the starry sky! I was lost deep in my thoughts and suddenly, I realized that I was all alone there and I had done it!

Chocolate colored mountains from the Spiti Valley - One of my first clicks on my first solo trip!
Chocolate colored mountains from the Spiti Valley – One of my first clicks on my first ever solo trip!

Blue, green and brown were my most used pastel colours all through my childhood not knowing that these colours will forever leave firm imprints on my life. I am a total hill person. I love anything and everything about mountains, clear blue skies, vast green meadows and dense forests. I don’t remember what kick started this love but it’s there now for a while and one thing that I am sure of is that it will last till my legs give away. I often venture out to high altitude terrains to move away from the dust and pollution of city life, sometimes to take a break from repetitive and boring life and mostly to have some private exclusive time with the mountains. Mountains have given more than have taken from me. Here are my five life lessons or the 5 things I learned from my trekking experiences – 

1. You can’t succeed if you don’t try. You could only fail if you didn’t try
I have been a reader and traveler since childhood and was automatically drawn towards mountains and their beauty. Often times reading several adventure series and travel books made me wonder if I could also embark on such journeys! What would it be like treading difficult paths like these amazing men did? I used to underestimate myself thinking I can never scale such heights till I made up my mind one day to give it a shot and there hasn’t been any stopping since then.

At Tumling - From my first trek to Sandakphu and Phalut
At Tumling – From my first trek to Sandakphu and Phalut

I’m going to be honest when I say that I had no idea what my father was getting me into. I had heard him talk about this project called Planet Harmony for really long and I knew he was really enthusiastic about it.

The Gang!
The Gang!

The plan was to get students (ages 15 – 18) and their teachers, from disturbed areas of India and to buddy them with a student from the National Capital region with whom they would stay for a few days. Students and teachers were coming from Shillong, Kashmir, Manipur and Chhattisgarh. My buddy’s name was Sonia and she was from Manipur. When I went to pick her up from the airport the first day, as soon as I met her, I knew we would both get along well. The first day we watched a movie and got to know each other. The second day we met all the other participants and went sightseeing in Delhi.

Team bonding
Team bonding

The day after that is when the real journey began. We all went to a camp called Camp Panther for ten days which is situated near the River Ganga in the Himalayas in Rishikesh.  Thirty two of us students, our five teachers and the staff of Planet Harmony headed to the camp. The train ride was very enjoyable as everyone had already started bonding. We were all singing and having a lot of fun. The next ten days went in a jiffy. We did a lot of outdoor sports such a trekking, rafting and zip lining. I feel everyone enjoyed those activities immensely.

Born on 17th January 1959, , Wg Cdr Amit Chowdhury, VSM (Retd), developed an interest in adventure activities when he joined Jadavpur University in 1976 and went for a rock climbing course at Susunia Hills in West Bengal. Very soon he was climbing in the crags of Bankura and Purulia and pioneering some new routes in these areas. Besides doing a few trekking routes, he attended the Mountaineering Courses at HMI Darjeeling.

He went on to lead the very successful expedition to Mt. Jogin in Garhwal in 1980. In that expedition he climbed the hitherto virgin Mt. Jogin II. More interesting, however, was that the team managed to bag all three Jogin peaks (I, II and III), something that has never been done since then.

This marked the beginning of a very exciting and fulfilling adventure career. He trail-blazed several expeditions with the Jadavpur University Mountaineering and Hiking Club (JUMHC) and later after passing out and getting commissioned in the Indian Air Force in 1982. He went on to lead several expeditions from JUMHC and even mentored Baldev Kanwar who later went on to climb Everest and get the National Adventure Award.

Amit climbed extensively in the Himalayas to peaks such as Kamet (7756 m), Satopanth (7075 m), Jaonli (6632 m), Kedar Dome (6831m),  and several other 5000 and 6000 m peaks such as Sudarshan Parbat, Deo Tibba, CB-53, CB-54, Manali, Ladakhi and Shitidhar. He has trekked and climbed in Nepal, French Alps, Avon and Dorset in England and the Caucasus mountains in Russia from 2010 to 2014.

After he got commissioned in the IAF, Amit earned his para wings and took to Skydiving. He was one of the chief organisers of the 1st National Skydiving Championship. Besides Skydiving he was also active in the IAF Mountaineering Expeditions and went on to participate in mountaineering expeditions to Mt Satopanth, Mt Kamet from the West route, which was a joint expedition with the Royal Air Force. On this expedition, he was involved in the rescue of three colleagues from the top of the ridge which involved some 4000 feet of climbing on rock and ice. It took 16 hours to carry out this rescue.