In April last year, I brought in my 30th birthday in Europe on a three-week trip. I had my cousin and a friend for company for half of the trip, the rest was spent alone. It took me a day to realise that I didn’t like solo travel, it was too quiet (even for me). It took me back to my first time as a solo traveller, at everyone’s favourite weekend hangout, Alibaug.
There is a lesson to be learned from travelling alone. It is very quiet. Justifiably so. You cannot talk to anyone and you obviously do not want to talk to yourself for fear of appearing deranged.
At first you do not realise it. You are immensely excited to be travelling to an unknown destination, alone, for the first time in your life. Your nervousness has been masked at home as you get busy packing and jotting down a list of to-do’s.
Once on the road, the thrill sets in. It is a new place, there will be new experiences and hopefully you will meet some interesting people. Meeting interesting people finds itself at the top of many a journalists’ to-do list. You meet interesting people, you get them talking and voila, you have a story or at least an idea for one. The silence is relegated to the background as modernity comes to your rescue. The car has radio, your phone has the latest songs and if really bored, the internet is a few clicks away.
Your destination is just two hours away, Alibaug. Once there, you check in at the resort you’re staying at, sip on your welcome drink and wait to be guided to your room. As you walk through the corridors, the silence creeps up from behind and whacks you on the head. You turn to the resort staff walking with you and state the obvious, “It’s really quiet here, isn’t it?” She smiles back, “It always is”.
Lunchtime and you are at a restaurant seated at a table for four. The waiter comes and clears the plates and napkins from the other seats, gives you a sympathetic smile. You ignore him and get out your book. ‘No one can stop you from reading a book, can they?’ People stare, so the book goes back into the bag. You have a backup plan. You think for a minute as to who would be awake (it’s 3.30 pm and relatives back home tend to take a siestas at the time) and free (it’s a weekday and most friends would be working), call them and conduct a desultory conversation. Your food comes and you’re relieved. A lot of it gets wasted and you apologise sheepishly to the waiters. You hate wasting food.
It’s evening. You hire a rickshaw and set out to explore Alibaug. Your driver turns out to be the talkative kind so you keep him engaged in conversation. You visit a few temples; explore the village and the market place.
Then you come to Varsole beach. It reminds you of home and picnics spent on the beach. The camera comes out as you attempt to capture all the little eddies in the sand, the tiny crabs scurrying away and the beauty of a blue sky reflected in the sand. Silence creeps in again, this time adding to the pounding of the waves and the whoosh of wind through your hair. There is so much of beauty out there that you want to share it with someone. You look at the pale sky and think of all those email forwards you’ve read about being nothing but a speck in this mighty universe, how the vastness of the sea is supposed to mean something and so on. You laugh out loud and then stop: what if someone heard you? There is no one around. You laugh again, a little louder.
To fill the silence, you start singing all those inane songs that you have on your playlist and which have hitherto been reduced to being sung in the bathroom. The wind provides background music. You walk along the sand singing loudly and then softly to yourself. Every song has a memory attached to it and those memories come to mind. You look up at the sky and quietly tell yourself that things will be all right.
The silence no longer threatens or frightens you. It helps you think, clearly. And it helps you be silent within. This is better than meditation because you’re doing it with your eyes open. You think back to the problems in your life, how insurmountable they seem and how simple it would be if you didn’t allow them to weigh you down. You work out solutions to them in your head. You ponder on the presence of god, of a being whose existence you question. Thoughts tumble in your mind- what would your family/friends be doing, would people in office miss you, which places you want to visit next.
You stand there for an hour, just by yourself, without moving.
As you walk back, you realise, it’s okay to travel alone as long as you have memories for company.