A recent trip to Kutch that I announced with great fanfare about being my first solo trip, wasn’t the first time I had travelled to a new place alone. I was researching a Parsi family for a docu series on the BBC, which took me to Sanjan in 2009 – one of the first places that the Parsis settled in India. As I googled Sanjan today, a lot of information showed up, but back then, it was a fairly obscure place and I remember how hard it was for me to plan my visit.
Then an Animal Planet documentary took me to Nileshwar in North Kerala. Today Nileshwar is increasingly becoming popular on the tourist map given its clean beaches, serene backwaters and close proximity to the beautiful Bekal Fort. Four years back, I again struggled to find this place which was literally off the map!
But both these visits were for work and I had a reason to be there then. Kutch was pure indulgence! The joy of exploring a place because you simply want too is very special. Having travelled to 20 states and 4 union territories in India, and having visited 20 countries, travel is not new to me. For me this trip to Kutch was as much a discovery of the place as it was about me as a traveler, and about what travel means to me.
It was a fairly last minute trip as my husband and daughter were both unwell a week before I was scheduled to leave. Four days before my trip I finally booked my tickets. Then I started my search for a good hotel to spend my first night. I was hoping to spend a night in the villages, so although I didn’t book a hotel for the remaining nights I made sure they had availability and was assured that I would get a room if I needed one.
I had to figure out how I would get to the villages and was keen on finding a local guide who could take me around. I am beginning to really warm up to the idea of spending time with locals, its not the same as striking up a conversation with a bell boy at the hotel or a waiter at a restaurant (most often these tend to be outsiders).
So what was it about this trip that made it standout from all the ones I have done so far! Singularly it was the freedom of choice. It felt so liberating to do exactly what I wanted too. I didn’t go into this trip with too much planning. I knew I had adequate time to explore Bhuj and around, so I really went with an open mind. I wasn’t carrying too much baggage of expectation.
To be honest, I didn’t think too much about the trip because I was sitting on a fence, on one side of which, was an ocean of thoughts about my safety, boredom and doom. I steered clear of this side because I did not want to do this trip feeling sorry for myself, well I had made the choice of doing this!
I spent the first evening of my trip around Hamirsar lake, a popular spot in Bhuj. Many of the cities iconic buildings are located around the lake. When I first got to the lake, I was not struck by its beauty, because its a fairly ordinary water body. I decided to walk around and just soak in life as it was unfolding before me. I discovered some beautiful, serene temples, standing silently as they kept watch over Bhuj and her people. I passed by this rectangular room that had people standing around tall tables looking at something. On close inspection it turned out to be a library and people were reading newspapers, catching up on the news. I was instantly reminded of times when newspapers were a luxury and such reading rooms the norm.
As I walked the periphery of the lake, I stopped to ask locals directions and no one looked at me like I was from outer space. As the sun began its downward descent, the sky and clouds put on a magnificent show that evening.
At the lake I saw this old lady throwing bits of dough for the fish into the lake. I stopped to chat with her and eventually she invited me to her house for chai (tea). She told me about the food that one has to try when in Bhuj and where the best places were for me to sample them.
I spent the rest of the evening finding the best pakvan, gulab pak and thali in town. There was no one else who’s needs, desires, opinions I had to consider. I just indulged myself. When I got back to the hotel that night I was a very satisfied person. I had spoken to far more people than I could have imagined. I felt very confident and content as a person.
Over the next two days I travelled to far flung villages in Kutch. My guide and I met some very interesting people on the way. We gave a lift (ride) to 8 people over those 2 days, from farmers, to cattle herders, to even a beggar. Each one of those people and our interactions with them made our journey more meaningful.
We travelled to some very remote villages and spent time talking to the people who lived there. Some were engaged in specific crafts and showed them to me proudly. We were in no rush to be anywhere. We did maximum 2 villages before lunch and then one or two in the evening. We never visited any with the intention of just ticking it off our list.
On this trip I discovered the luxury and beauty of slow travel, of enjoying a place and of savoring it. This was such a heady feeling and so addictive too, I can’t wait to be off again and hoping secretly I will do it solo.
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world” – Freya Stark