It seems almost every week, a new article arises in the media about females being harassed in India. And nearly every time this happens, India receives the shortest end of the stick.
Yes, the men can be leery. Yes, the crowds and chaos is no where near a trip to the Bali or Tokyo, but I can wholeheartedly tell you that a trip to India will challenge your senses and make you want to believe that it is possible to experience hopelessness, pain, longing, wander and triumph in the same breath. With a few general street smarts, the good can outweigh your bad experiences in India.
I craved for mountains, solitude, the everyday fun and seeing India from a different side. One that was far from the usual India trips my family had brought me to as a child - I didn’t want to be ferried in private taxis and taken to the fancy Taj Hotel.
I wanted to ferociously inhabit the nooks and crannies of India’s streets, taste the local curries just like a local and see the majestic massifs without bursting my budget. There is magic when you travel solo on a backpacking trip to India that is far from the usual cities and the cliche Golden Triangle. Spending time in the Northern India stretches overlooking gorgeous views of the rivers and valleys made me realise the rampant misconception I had about all of India.
Here’s a photo-journey to inspire you to visit India on a solo trip and tips to travel in India and how to travel alone.
Starting your trip in New Delhi, the chaos of India
You either hate it, or love it - I personally was not accustomed to Delhi’s perennial winter smog. But, I learned to witness the craziness that makes Delhi. You would expect organised chaos in the capital of India, instead you’ll spot spunky Delhites thronging the streets of Connaught place and dining in highbrow places.
The obligatory visit to Taj Mahal
Nothing can prepare you for the beauty and exquisite marble structure in Agra, the Taj Mahal. I joined a female-only tour to The Taj Mahal organised by the hostel I stayed in. It was an early morning rise to ensure we get there before the morning rush hour madness.
Heading North to The Himalayan Foothills, Rishikesh
Being able to access the Himalayan mountains in just under 6 hours through falling leaves and dancing mountains was the perfect gateway to the Himalayan town, in Rishikesh beside the Ganges river. The river is considered holy, and the city is renowned as a center for studying yoga and meditation.
The mountains do not make you insignificant in this part of the Himalayas but it is a great place to start your trip with and experience a mountain or yoga retreat. The government has banned river rafting in Uttarakhand due to the number of deaths and cleanliness is another issue considering it being so easily accessible to local Delhites.
Spending time in the meadows of Chopta, Uttarakhand
Imagine having your favourite parathas and having a steaming cup of ‘chai’ in a small unassuming village in Chopta just a day before the hike. I had no idea what to expect but I knew that this was the starting point before my hike to the Chandrashila peak also known as ‘Moon Rock’ and the highest Shiv temple in the world.
Ringing the Bells of the Highest Shiv Temple In the World
While trekking in Chandrashilla, we were surrounded by some of the highest Indian mountains such as Nanda Devi, the 23rd highest mountain in the world and Chaukamba which forms the head of the Gangotri glacier.
Making Sense of Life Through A German Girl in India
We were told a hermit from Germany resided in the mountains of Ukhimath in India close to the Kalishila temple. A steep and strenuous 4km trek from the Ranwleg village took us to the top of the temple shrine called Kalishila. For the last 25 years, she had been living there and led a modest and basic life in a small shack outfitted with her essentials - just a saffron robe, vegetable crops and her dogs.
She spoke fluent Hindi and could converse in the local language (Garhwali) which belongs to the region of Uttarakhand, the Central Pahari people.
There was no direct buses to Ukhimath but a train or bus could be taken from Dehradoon or Rishikesh and from there a bus to Ukhimath, which is also the starting point for the Chandrashila trek.
Befriending Royal Enfielders and taking a bike trip to the deep valleys of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh
I didn’t really do anything exciting with my life and certainly nothing adventurous until I took a trip like this to the Himalayas with a stranger whom I just met on Couchsurfing. Connecting with locals like Mukul, my couchsurfing friend took me on a zigzag journey to the deep valleys of Uttarakhand Himachal Pradesh for 3 weeks
The journey opened my eyes to a new India addressing the simple life and lush observations of wildlife, people and landscapes.
The cliff-hanging drive to Kinnaur’s dangerous roads
We continued tracing our routes to the highest Himalayan mountains and winded up in a scenic cliff-hanging drive just above the seemingly bottomless Baspa river gorge in Sangla Valley in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. Confronting roads like this on a two-wheeler is a stupefying activity, but we are met with miles and miles of beauty.
The photogenic mountain people in Sangla, Kinnaur
In a landscape dotted by towering peaks, dangerous roads and wondrous trees, we stopped to take in the cold mountain chill air in Sangla, Kinnaur, situated on the banks of the Baspa river. Classes have resumed at school after the Winter spell and the apple-faced photogenic Himalayan children could hardly control their giggles when we entered the quaint village.
Last inhabited Indian Village at the Indo-Tibet border, Chitkul
There’s quite a bit of hype surrounding Chitkul said to be the last inhabited village within the Indian boundaries on the old Indo-Tibetan Road. A sparsely populated community, the Kinnauris in Chitkul keep to themselves and adopt a somewhat reserved attitude towards outsiders.
We looked around and found a school, played a basketball game with the locals and took a stroll to the Baspa river, the main source of water for the village in this region.
Blooming cherry blossoms in Raksham village, Kinnaur
Cherry blossoms in India - who would have thought? The pastel pink flowers rose in delicate contrast against the stoic mountains in Kinnaur district. It was a place that I absolutely loved in Himachal Pradesh. The air all around sparked with connection and it was a strangely calm place, one that I loved more than Chitkul.
In the city, nature is often used for the shortest of short-term gains but over here, it provides sustenance and the perfect backdrop to sit and ponder on thoughts; thoughts that would be muddled in the city as you often find yourself joining other folks doubling down on the status quo.
Of hot springs and serenity in Manikaran, Kullu Manali
On a bright sunny and cool afternoon ride, we made it to the hot springs and beautiful Manikaran Sikh gurdwara. Flapping prayer flags, steam billowing from beneath the temple remains as a spiritual place and atmosphere for thousands of worshippers.
Visiting Alexander’s last descendants in Malana Valley
Word has it that Malana is an isolated village in the Parvati Valley and its quiet inhabitants are said to be descendants of soldiers of Alexander’s army, where inhabitants proclaim themselves as the Greek king and only speak a language called Kanashi where only they can understand.
Also known as the place to get premium quality “hashish” - narco tourism is a thing here as I saw little children coming up to me to sell these premium grade Malana cream, a strain of Cannabis hashish. The locals consider a holy herb but outsiders see it as a way to escape reality.
In a mission to protect the purity of this village, contact is restricted with outsiders. With so much hype in Kasol about Malana Valley, I found the entire village shrouded in hype and one that left me puzzled with a lot of unanswered questions about their culture and origins.
In this collection of immersive tales and pictures, I hope the parts of Northern India will fill you with awe and wonder to visit the beautiful mountains and valleys in this part of the world on a solo trip to India. We are witnessing the effects of climate-change firsthand and more so these communities will be facing the calamities when temperatures hit unbelievable temperatures.
Going there, talking bout it and expanding your worldview on the people, the landscapes and culture may draw parallels between your past and future on-goings.
Travel Safety Tips for Travelling Alone in India
#1 Getting Around
Use metro stations and travel in ladies only compartment. That’s how I travelled everywhere in New Delhi and only used rickshaws for short distances - never for long-distances.
Download Ola or Uber if you’d like to travel long distances
The easiest way to book your train tickets is via 12go.asia. You can even ask the hostel you’re staying in to help you with logistics.
#2 Making local friends
I never used Couchsurfing to stay with locals in India and started my trip by staying in common grounds like hostels and homestays where it was easier to meet other people. But I used Couchsurfing to connect with locals, as a way to see India through their eyes. I was fortunate that my Couchsurfing friend invited me for a bike trip to the Himalayas, but not all hosts are as friendly and good-natured, so it would be best to go with your gut feeling and exercise precaution where necessary.
#3 Be confident, not over-friendly
I can’t stress how important it is to be confident, avoid eye-contact and be assertive when you’re travelling in India. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t entertain over-friendly men. It’s OK to be cold and to not entertain people who are disrespectful and do not understand space / boundaries.
#4 Get a simcard
Getting a local simcard like Airtel, Aircel or Vodafone is easier to make bookings and plan your trips accordingly. Just make sure to have a copy of your passport and your Indian Visa, and a passport sized photo with you.
#5 Choose an ideal starting point for your trip to India
The chaos and crowds in the cities can be overwhelming and I honestly did not want to spend my time in cities. Spending time in cities was often a quick trip to do laundry, get my bearings, visit places that I really wanted to visit and to move on to other mountain towns where trekking in the hills or going for a retreat was a bliss.
Many solo travellers pick New Delhi as their starting point and slowly move on to other locations. I travelled for three months and this was my route and sometimes I didn’t make it to all these places due to bad weather:
New Delhi to Ladakh (Leh, Nubra Valley, Zanskar)
Uttarakhand (Rishikesh, Ukhimath, Chamoli, Chopta, Kanatal)
Himachal Pradesh (Manali, Kasol, Kinnaur, Spiti Valley)
Sikkim (Gangtok, Yumthang Valley, Darjeeling)
Border run to Nepal from Siliguri to Kakarbhitta (to renew my visa)
#6 Don’t sweat the small stuff
It can be overwhelming and anxiety-producing to travel to India but there were times where nothing went as planned and I chose to let it slide, focus on taking breaks and staying indoors in my hostel. Travelling to India is a steep learning curve and one that comes with some kind of primer and attentiveness.
The easiest way is to stick to places that you can imagine yourself being there, befriend people who are travelling to these places or try to find local friends that you can tag along to start with until you get some confidence. The fun is in learning and being surefooted (and sometimes not as much) as you figure out your way through offbeat places in India
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