I’ve got a little mark in my diary from a trip this summer that says, in my scribbly-happy handwriting, “I should always focus on the following: Solo Travel, Education, Generosity, Love.”
I remember the moment I wrote this.
After finishing my six month-long work placement at an Indian company, I could think of nothing better than crossing the border. I had just ventured alone into Nepal for two weeks to hire a bike and cycle across a chosen section of the country. Nepal was my France: nearby, inexpensive and not a risk—at least not when you’d lived and had been out and about in Delhi as a lone female. Nepal was intensely beautiful, friendlier and more open with plenty to discover.
Surviving on Maggi noodles (Indian/Nepali instant noodles), apples and Chai tea strong enough to wake anyone from even the deepest stupor, I pedal-powered 250 kilometers away to a town called Jomsom—my pedaling at times interrupted by landslides and days of constant rain hammering on my helmet and dripping down my face, but nonetheless, nurturing my soul.
Traveling alone gave me the confidence to try new things. There is the assumption that solo travel makes you tougher, but I see it differently. It gives you the chance to be softer, to be exactly as you are naturally, without distraction and to use all of your senses, as we rarely do when there are others to filter our experiences. It is then possible to take every moment fully and focus on the present—something I have always found difficult to do.
I was safe there alone, waiting for the magic of Nepal to continue my journey and grant me safe passage. I passed temples where I would stop to watch pilgrims walking in counterclockwise circles, carrying disposable plates with garlands of flowers as offerings. Himalayan rose pink salt decorated every table with Tata-branded water touting, ‘you were born to drink this.’
Although there were glimmers of loneliness, there became certain rhythms to my day: anchors of yoga stretches after lunch, tea breaks (if I could just pedal another two kiliometers…) and regular video recordings on my little flip-cam (so that I had a record of the highs and the lows). These videos now offer a great way to look back at this time, setting a lovely background with sounds of cascading waterfalls, the tinkering of donkey bells and shouts of children as I cycled into villages.
When you travel alone and arrive in a new place each night, perhaps you are vulnerable, as you are yet to understand the place you’ve reached.
But your intuition develops fast. You gain awareness of what to do and not to do. I also made friends faster when it was just me, nestled in the corner of a cafe with my notebook and cup of tea. After having traveled alone, everything seems more possible. Which leads me to my next thought…
Traveling alone is one way to be open to generosity. Nepal is landlocked, a small country relying on trade routes from other surrounding places: Bhutan, India, China, the mountains. And the communities that gather and live across its mountain ranges are hardy people.
Generosity also meant being open to sharing opinions, thoughts, culture and moments.
Sharing tea at villagers’ houses on the way to Jomsom—a destination that was a four-day walk through water-logged roads away—created bonds. If we shared the same language, we spoke about the joy of having a destination in mind and what might be there. If we didn’t, we gestured with our hands and hearts at the beauty of the road outside, at what was happening and where we were right now.
I learned how to change the inner tubes on a bicycle this summer. The same day I was taught how to get the chain untangled and what to do if it broke. Smatterings of Nepalese and the Devanagari (the Indian alphabet used to write many Indian languages) have been ingrained in the loopy circles of my notebook, just as the national flower of Nepal, the Rhododendron, which I had drawn again and again.
I learned about the elements that were alive and full as I cycled: the scent of apples—lifting from the Marpha Valley, crossing the open fields of wild, grey horses—blew over the lake towards Jomsom.
The Larjun wind, strongest between ten and five every day, pushed through the dusty town that, in the low season, was covered with scaffolding and building crews.
One of the best things about this trip was the fact that I didn’t buy anything except food and drinks. There was no point in trawling through piles of mala beads or loosely trying on a new overcoat. The mountains were calling me and they were not for sale, so I ventured on.
I learned about risk. I came to think of these two weeks as mitigating risk, deciding when to push on in the afternoon by judging how much sunlight was left, how close to the mountains I could pedal to be safe from the edge and when to accept an invitation to join locals at their table.
I had been single for a few years before I moved to India in the Spring. I had beautiful walls built up around myself, until I met someone who spent time investing care and love into me and somehow smashed them all down.
I felt love when I met a bus full of people traveling down the mountain and they adopted me into their group, inviting me to share their booked rooms in a lodge one evening and giving me advice for the road ahead.
And again on day three, when a little old Nepali man pressed a chunk of fresh coconut still in its shell into my hands, wrapped an orange string around my wrist and started bowing to me over and over. He gestured to the mountains that loomed ahead with an ominous height and the grey rumbles overtaking the sky to suggest his offering was for luck. He murmured rumro, rumro which, from Nepali, translates to good, good.
Sometimes, love is someone phoning you at a set time each night to check that you’ve made it safely through the day alone. This call or email always gives you something to look forward to.
Suddenly, somewhere out there on the road, I stopped feeling lonely and I felt the largeness of love. I stopped turning over old moments of despair or reflecting on when things hadn’t worked out so well and instead, focused on all the good moments: celebrations with friends, laughter over the dinner table. These thoughts began to move towards the forefront of my consciousness, pinging at me like stars, dinosaur old.
I felt something that resembled peace. On this trip, I found a quotation that brings love to the front again:
“No different, really —
a summer firefly’svisible burning
and this body,
transformed by love.”
~ Izumi Shikibu
Another note from my diary: ‘I will always honour the peace and happiness I felt during these two weeks and be able to find it again.’
I hope you journey, love, learn and are generous with your heart, with your mind and with your soul.
Happy travels through life.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Christina Lorenzo / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: author’s own