I have been traveling mentally and physically for quite a long time. But most of it was with someone else; or in a group. I used to read about solo traveling and how it changes people.
As it is said, you don't know something unless you have done it. The same was true for me. I used to think, solo travel is just traveling alone and enjoying the place unhindered. To some extent, that is true. But there are lots more to it.
I could travel solo, I mean, get on a bus and go anywhere. But my love for motorcycles always prevailed. I longed to travel on a motorcycle. I was in fact saving up each penny to get my own bike.
Now, two important points to keep in mind:
I didn't own a bike.
I learned to ride recently, and other than going to the nearby market or to my office, I haven't been anywhere on a bike. Leaving out the point of doing it solo.
The first issue was resolved by my buddy Kanishk. You must know him by now as he has been there on most of my trips. He taught me to ride a motorbike around a year ago and let me tell you, he taught me good. Kanishk went to his home for quite a while and I was using his bike. A glamorous, TVS Apache RTR 180 2V, I love that bike till now. I used to take that bike to the office and just randomly go around nearby.
The TVS Apache RTR 180 2v that I was riding. This photo was taken at a halt due to sudden rain.
Preparations for the tour: The interesting part of this tour was that it was the least planned trip till now. I had to travel to Chandigarh to one of my relatives. Initial plans were to take the numerous buses/trains from New Delhi and reach there. Then an idea came to my mind, I can try and ride the bike there. I called Kanishk and asked him - "Bhai, Chandigarh jaana h, tera bike le jau? 250 km h." (bro, I am going to Chandigarh, can I take your bike?)
To my surprise, his response was - "Jaao, bas zinda wapas aa jana"; (go, but come back alive). This was surprising to me as he was aware that this will be my longest ride and that too solo - on unknown roads.
I got the bike serviced and the next 2 days were spent preparing for the ride.
The ride starts: I prefer starting my rides/tours super early in the morning whenever possible. On this day also, I started at around 4:00 am. I had a laptop bag as I was scheduled to work from there, and another bag tied with bungee cords at the tail of the bike. I had pre-determined the route through Delhi - Murthal - Panipat - Karnal - Kurukshetra - Chandigarh. I was not pushing the bike and the initial speeds were slow as the bike felt a lot vibey after 60 km/h.
I reached Murthal and took a tea break. From there I started pushing the bike a bit at a time and found that this baby was super smooth post 85 km/h. All the vibrations were gone and I was cruising the rest of the way just below 100. I reached Chandigarh before noon. It was a fun ride.
Fast forward a week
The day of return arrived and I started my ride back toward Delhi. I took some wrong turns and ended up inside Chandigarh city. Eventually, I arrived at an intersection on the highway. From here, I was supposed to take a right towards Delhi. I was waiting at the signal, and I glanced at the signboard that said "Delhi", and the thought of city-work-office-traffic jam-mundane life, all came to my head.
I looked towards my right and there a signboard said "Shimla" - The queen of hills. High mountains, snow-capped peaks in the distance, clean air, and the musty smell of pine forests.
Without much thinking, I turned to the right and went towards Shimla. No plan, No itinerary - Just ride to steal some good days.
I was initially skeptical of riding the winding roads of hills, but soon I was comfortable enough to lean down the curves and enjoy the road. It was monsoon season at its peak and there were a lot of rockslides along the road. Sometimes, the road was closed on one side and bulldozers were busy clearing the road.
Eventually, I reached a point on the road and it started to rain. It was drizzling at first and then it just poured cats and dogs. And let me remind you, I was on the mountain roads.
I clicked this photo when I randomly waited at a place just to watch the scenery. It was raining and clouded initially, and then it opened up to this view.
I had rain covers for my bags, but nothing except my riding jacket for myself. After it became too tough to ride on, I took shelter under the umbrella of a streetside vendor selling choley-kulchey (a local fast food). I asked him about any nearby places that I can go. He said that I could go to Shimla. Which I denied as it was quite touristy and it was raining like anything so it'd be dark by the time I reach. He then suggested that I can go to a nearby town, Kasauli. It'd be tucked into a corner and there will be little to no tourists. I instantly decided that I wanted to go there.
The next 2 hours were spent talking to the vendor about life as it was raining and I couldn't go anywhere.
Then after some asking around here and there, I left the main road and started towards Kasauli on the narrow road through the mountain forest, and let me tell you... It was just awesome!
On a clear day, Kasauli would have been visible from this point, but not on this day.
I stopped many times along the route, sometimes to see a beautiful scene, sometimes to watch the clouds roll by the hills below me, or other times... to just feel being there. This was the first time, I felt truly free. I was by myself, I had to ask no one, I had the freedom to do whatever I want, and I could just stand in a place just staring at the hills for hours. This was the first time, I realized what actually is the essence of traveling solo.
Eventually, I reached Kasauli town and I realized, that there was no phone signal. Absolutely zero. There was no way I could look for what was around me on the map or even if there was a place. I decided to just go ahead on the road till I find a hotel or homestay, or even a shop to ask. After going around 50 meters, I was on the outskirts of the town (yes, it's that small). I parked my bike near an intersection on the road and decided to look around on foot. I saw a small shop nearby and a couple of hotels around. I asked the shop for some options, and he said the best hotel is up a couple of meters along a steep path. I reached the hotel and it was damn expensive. Still, I decided to just ask them if there are any budget places to stay and the lady at the reception said that they have converted a room into a 4-bed dorm that was way cheaper and I could use the premium facilities of the hotel for no added charge. Sounds like a good deal to me.
There was another person beside me in the room and he was there for more than a week. Me being the introverted guy, kept to myself most of the time. Changed from my riding gears to something comfortable and went to the rooftop diner to have some tea and snacks. Till the time the tea was being prepared, I decided to video call Kanishk to show him the place, and also let him know that I have ridden on the winding hilly roads to reach there. And to be honest, the view from the rooftop was just... EPIC!
View of Kasauli from the rooftop
I also called my parents and got a good scolding from them for wandering here and there and that too on a bike and solo. I got threatened with being married off. 😢
Once I was done enjoying the views I decided to explore a bit. I asked the reception and they said if I just walk along the narrow lane, I'd reach mall road, a place that has a couple of scenic views along the route and a small market there with some cafes. She suggested I definitely try "Mitti Cafe". (I will try this cafe on my next trip).
So I started walking along the road. It was deserted except for me. Barely a meter wide, just super steep (maybe 35° steep at some points), and was passing through some super old houses. From the receptionist, I had gotten the idea that this was a cantonment town set up during the British times and have been left mostly undisturbed except for some areas. And the visuals could attest to that.
Old houses at Kasauli
Now, although quite the adventurous I am, my legs weren't ready to walk the steep slope. Even though I was pushing myself, I walked barely a km, and my legs were trembling. I knew it was a trek of more than 5 km, so decided to turn around and take the main road to there on my bike, leaving the hike for another day. And... that was a mistake!!! Climbing down that slope with my jelly legs was 100 times tough. I tried walking sideways but to no avail. My legs weren't cooperating at that point. However, slowly and steadily, I reached the hotel, but I was completely drenched in sweat and I couldn't feel my legs supporting me anymore.
I just sat on the stairs for around 15 min to regain my composure and went back to the room to just freshen up and maybe change into some dry clothes that are not drenched in sweat.
By then, my dorm mate said that we could trek to a nearby point called the suicide point through the Gilbert trail, one of the well-marked trails here, to watch the sunset as he couldn't dare to do it alone. Upon further conversation, I came to know that he was a data analyst from Mumbai and was working remotely while traveling around the country. I had a couple of hours till he was done with his office and we could go out.
I stuck to my plan of going to Mall road with my bike and analyzed the route beforehand. It was a steep uphill ride, but not too tough despite my low skill level. I was told by the cops stationed there that Mall road is entirely off-limits for vehicles. So I parked my bike at a nearby parking lot run by the government and started walking with my camera and backpack. I walked through the mall road and there was a huge number of stalls selling various stuff ranging from wooden items to just touristy stuff and even some shops selling Tibetan food. They were a bit pricey, but were delicious. After some walking, I came across an old church with a magnificent view to watch it partially covered in low clouds. It was monsoon so the clouds were low and we were high up.. perfect!
Unfortunately... I was so engrossed in the view, I forgot that I was holding a camera and didn't click a single photo. After some time, I just sat there and took some pictures just to remember the place, although they were not half as gorgeous as the view that passed.
The church that I mentioned about
Working sundial at the Church. It was super accurate.
Once I exited the church area, I kept walking along the roads and the views were just surreal. As if I was transported back to olden times, times before concrete houses were just spewing here and there, times before the common boring rectangular design of houses. I was walking along houses made of wooden logs, with small but beautiful gardens in front of them, the roads lined with cobblestones. It was just..... beautiful.
I enjoyed where I was for a while before it was my time to head back for the evening trek.
Once I was back and we started the trek, Holy mOly..... It was that damn road... that steep incline... and there was no other way.
We started walking along that path, but this time, it was different... similar, but different. It was difficult walking up, but not the jelly legs anymore. Maybe my body adjusted to the height and terrain of the place. Maybe I loved the place enough that my brain was suppressing my difficulties.
Halfway to the trailhead, it started to fog up, the low clouds started rolling in and visibility was not much. But it felt good. It eventually started drizzling and the views turned from foggy to ... green.
Once we were at the trailhead, it was a light rain. But since we were already half wet, we decided to continue. It was a narrow trail, full of rocks, along the side of the hills. We were walking through the jungle, and it started raining on and off. We had no hope of sunset, but we were just trodding along. Feeling the raindrops on our faces as it had started pouring by then. We reached the suicide point and since there was nothing to do, we decided to just walk along the trail to see where it goes. All this time, we were carefully stepping towards the inside of the trail so as to have solid ground and not cause a small landslide as the whole side of the hill was just muddy and prone to landslides.
The trail that we were walking upon
Eventually, we reached the point beyond which the trail was there, but it was not taken by many people. It was clear by the undergrowth along the trail that this part is not used much. Further, it was almost sundown, so it'd get dark pretty quickly and it is not a good idea to walk around in the hilly forests as this is the time when the leopards and other carnivorous animals will be active. And we didn't have any source of light other than our cell phones. So we spent 5-10 min there listening to the heavy rainfall just below us. We could hear the rain falling, but the cloud was too thick to see through. We then started walking back towards the trailhead at a fast pace. I was wearing trekking shoes, so I could run around without losing grip. But the other person was wearing sports shoes so he was struggling a bit. But we eventually reached the trailhead just before sundown and from there it was along the road till we reached the hotel.
Clouds below us
Engulfed by clouds
It starts raining
It was an awesome experience, to say the least. Once we were back at the hotel and changed into dry clothes, we went to the rooftop bar to have dinner. The diner/bar organizes different celebrations during the weekends and we were enjoying that to the fullest. People were drinking and dancing to the tunes of live music, enjoying themselves. No stag entry was allowed except for the dorm residents, so all the people there were either family or young couples.
We enjoyed till 10 pm post which the bar had to be shut down due to the rain and moreover, due to the rules of the place. We were tired so we just went to the room and went off to some deep sleep.
The next day, my dorm mate went off to explore the southern part of India. Now I was alone. I was casually strolling through the news as it was raining outside and just happened to see that there was a red alert for rain the next day. Since I was on the hills, and the road back was prone to landslides, I decided to cut my trip short and head back that day. I packed up my bag and got ready. Once the rain stopped and the weather seemed clear, I talked to the receptionist and checked out. They were asking me to stay back, but I was running out of money and couldn't afford to live there longer in case I get stuck there due to a major landslide.
As I was securing my bag to the tail of the bike, it started pouring again, and this time, it was intense. I was just waiting at the covered parking and eventually, the rain was string to increase to the point that the flow of water along the road was carrying pebbles the size of a fist along with it. This meant one thing, the intense rain was eroding the hill, and maybe..just maybe, there would be a landslide along the road, or maybe anywhere on this hill. Even if it didn't happen, it'd be super dangerous to ride through this rain. A rock of that size hitting my front wheel or coming under it would be enough to throw me off balance and the best outcome, in that case, would be a bad crash on the road.
Me waiting to start the ride
I waited for more than 2 hours and then the rain stopped. It was clear weather at last and I felt that it'd be good to ride and I started my journey back home.
I wasn't 5 km down the road and it started raining again. I was drenched instantly. I had rain covers for my bags, and I thought... "How bad can it be? Once I am down to the plains, it surely won't be raining". Or so I thought.
As I was 10 or 12 km on that forest road, I saw a large landslide ahead. Now I had 2 ways, either go back the same route I came and look for an alternate road, or find a way forward.
I waited for a while and saw the people on foot walking across a narrow path on the inside part of the landslide. The road was completely gone, but you'd have to leave the road and then connect back to it. It was treacherous and slippery, yet the only way forward. My being of short stature made it more tricky. I was eventually able to maneuver the bike to the other side, all this time, my rear tire was slipping around in the mud.
Once I was back on the tarmac, it was quite smooth sailing, except for the sudden deep potholes created by the rain and well hidden. Eventually, I reached the main Shimla - Delhi highway. From there it was just smooth tarmac. It was raining still now. Yet, with more confidence and control on the bike and I was just leaning it on the curves and hauling ass.
It took me more than 5 hours of riding in the pouring rain to reach Murthal which is 70km from Delhi. The rain was so much that I could feel every drop of it through my armored riding jacket. By this time, I was shivering from being drenched this long so halted at Murthal for some hot tea. The rain had stopped so I took off my jacket to allow my skin to dry a bit and enjoyed 4 cups of tea to warm myself.
The bike was muddy from all the adventurous ride. Yet somehow seems happy.
Then I started the final leg of the ride and it was bone dry. Not a drop of rain till I reached home. The roads were dry and dusty. Although I faced traffic towards the end, I was more than happy to be dry and had completed my first solo ride.
So, what if someone asks me... what is solo travel for me?
It is something that cannot be expressed in words. You need to experience it to understand. Solo travel forces you to break the walls around you and enables you to enjoy life a bit differently. Ah.. that's what everyone says about solo travel and I didn't understand that. Maybe..maybe you are also not able to understand. So why not take a bag, pack your stuff, and leave for some unknown place? To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.
Now my question to you is... What was your first solo travel story?