"Oh! He's never going to do it. Nobody goes alone. He's just kidding.."
"Who goes on a solo trip in India? You've gone crazy!"
"You're just mad! Why would you even do this?"
"Drop the plan, bro! Let's go to Rishikesh next weekend for rafting and bungee jumping."
While these were the most common statements that were used by people around me, including my parents, there were others that were motivating enough for me to not drop the plan to go on the solo excursion that I had not planned much for.
"Man! You're so cool! Respect! I wish I could go like you!"
"Bhai humara, stud hai!" (Our brother is a stud! *sarcastic, I know; still motivating*)
The tickets to nowhere -
Frankly speaking, even I did not believe that I was going alone for this little journey of mine. The mere thought of traveling alone for 12 hours on one side, to a place in the hills, sounded bizarre and equally exciting to me. It wasn't until 6 PM, when I booked my bus tickets, on the day that I was supposed to leave, that I realized that I would actually be doing this. I felt stupid for the next couple of hours that I was in the bus, sitting (rather, lying in the sleeper coach) alone sipping on Red Bull, trying to figure out, if this was stupidity to a new level or sheer cool factor on a high.
I had boarded a private bus to Hoshiarpur (Punjab, India) from Red Fort in Delhi that I had booked online on RedBus for Rs 1000, without a plan in my head for how I would be spending the next three days of my life. Even though I had spent the past one week telling everyone around me that I would be going on this trip, I had not planned a single moment of my journey because I wanted it to be a completely different and new experience for me. I have always believed that the best things in life happen unplanned (yet, somewhere in my head, I was quite sure this was stupidity).
Since the last direct bus to McLeod Ganj from Delhi leaves at 8 PM and I was to be in the office till 7 PM, the bus to Hoshiarpur (leaves at 9:45 PM) was the only viable option available to me. So, there I was, headed towards Hoshiarpur, from where I would be taking the first bus to Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh, India) and further, a cab to McLeod Ganj. Easy thing, right? Nah! Nobody told me that these buses that we sign up for, online, are not the buses we get in real. I was forced in a private bus (I really had no option. Pre-paid and last bus to Hoshiarpur. Could not miss it) with a very rude staff (that turned extremely friendly with me later in the morning and even offered me free ride for the next time and gave me their phone number) forcing me to contemplate my decision of going alone, once again, which I realized was the best decision I had made in the recent weeks.
The morning anxiety -
The fun part about these random trips is that you are never too sure about the outcome, no matter how hard you try to control it. Little did I know that I would face the mammoth task of reaching McLeod Ganj in the next 7 hours of my journey. It took me 4 hours of switching between 3 buses to reach Dharamshala at 10.30 AM.
Once I got down the bus, my anxiety level started rising. I was on an excursion to the hills all alone, with little knowledge about the place and nearby areas, with no food in my bag, no hotel rooms booked, no set plan / itinerary to follow to discover the places around, no return ticket in my pocket and a mesmerizing view around me. Things had finally got real for me, since, I knew there was no going back. My priority was to find a good and cheap accommodation where I would put up for the next 2 nights. After talking to over 25 people, I decided to stay at a guest house in Dharamkot, which is 2-3 kms above McLeod Ganj.
By 2:00 PM, I had reached McLeod Ganj from Dharamshala, after a brief shopping spree in the local market. The guest house where I was supposed to put up was still 2-3 kms above McLeod Ganj. Excited and all pumped up, I decided to walk my way taking in all the scenic beauty around me.
Two things that a person must never be ignorant of, when on the lower hills:
- Steepness of the slope,
And by now, you know that I am an ignorant guy. With a bag weighing close to 10 Kg (Note to self: take less stuff next time), a steep uphill walkway, not more than a couple of people around and monkeys all around me, I had really started contemplating my decision making capabilities. Luckily, 30 minutes, one bottle of water and a Maggi later, I managed to reach the guest house in Dharamkot.
Dharamkot is a quiet and secluded place with not so many visitors around during the month of November. There are a couple of guest houses in the village and two small cafes where I could mostly see foreigners, sunbathing and enjoying a cup of tea in the small town above McLeod Ganj. This is where I would be for two consecutive nights.