‘I want to go to the Tiger Kingdom in Thailand, I want to be by the side of Mekong, I want to see Angkor Wat, and I want to do yoga in Bali’, that was my idea of summer 2015 every time I thought about it.
‘It is unbelievably crazy’, ‘you are running away from life’ was all I got to hear. There was no dearth of people to discourage me. There was a moment of ecstasy when just one person remarked, “It is very enterprising, go ahead and do the trail.” Nevertheless, I knew I wasn’t seeking any approvals, and hence I was going, I was doing it.
Though this was not my first time for traveling solo, I will have to admit that I had some tingling in my belly as I planned this totally unplanned trip. A day before leaving for Thailand, I was scared. I was stressed out – physically, mentally and emotionally. I was leaving for 4 months, starting the next day. I had no plans chalked out. Though I had everything quite clear in my head, I just couldn’t manage to convince anybody at home or work. I wanted to shout my lungs out: yes, backpacking for months is ok and solo is even better. There were lot of doubts, lot of resistance and lot of disapprovals, more from the people who I assume, probably didn’t have the freedom or the choice to do anything remotely similar. Still I was leaving, curious to see how life unfolded and how the larger world looked like.
As I hit the road, not just this time, but every time I travel solo, I enjoy the flexibility to dance on my own whims and fancies. Every next day is a new day literally, at a new place, in a new city, in a new country. My days range from writing a blog sitting in my hostel room, to sleeping 10 hours a day to walking 10 kilometers a day. I have the freedom to do whatever I feel like every single day. But that freedom comes with responsibility, the responsibility to take all the decisions by myself – where to stay, how long to stay, what to eat, where to go, how much to spend and what is safe. I just keep my fingers crossed to make the right decisions and learn from the wrong ones. There is only Yes and No, no room for a maybe! There are days when sleeping on my yoga mat makes me wake up so fresh the next morning and there are others when after walking the 15th kilometer in a day, my hamstrings feel pain but it is the good pain. This is how I test my limits, push my body harder and then treat myself at one of the local supermarkets, something I absolutely love doing while I am traveling.
I was reading a book which said how trees become the best companions for people traveling alone. When you look at trees, they don’t judge you. You don’t expect trees to talk to you, to compliment you, to criticize you. You don’t start yelling at them, cutting their branches or tearing them apart, because they are not doing the way you would want them to. That’s how one should be with humans – humane but not emotional. And I did get a chance to embrace this experience. All my solo backpacking experiences put together helped me reduce my physical and emotional needs dramatically. While I missed family and friends at times, but that didn’t happen too often. More often than not, I was so euphoric from my surreal experiences that I would rarely miss people or life back home. And a nice book could satisfy me for days and weeks without break!
Somebody I didn’t know could make me smile every new day. I could have strong deep conversations with people I just met. The fact that he/she was there with me at that time at that place was enough for a test of like-mindedness. While I experienced the joy of someone hugging me and saying “You are wonderful”, I realized I was meeting even more wonderful people along my way. And believe me, there were times when I wanted a mechanism to hug myself. I felt proud to be living without things, same things which I couldn’t have parted with at home.
Traveling alone is meditative, I would say. Through my experiences, I got a chance to know myself better. When a family I met in Chiang Rai in Thailand remarked that my way of traveling was so different from theirs because they couldn’t think of leaving home for more than a week, they believed I would have worked hard to enjoy my life this way. But I believe it’s not about working hard, it’s about making hard choices to live life on your own terms.
But experiences may not be all good. I had crossed the border from Thailand to Laos and was about to get into a 2 day boat to Luang Prabang. It was 25th April and I have my diary entry saved from that day.
[Luang Prabang, 25th April 2015
Ok, I cried today, I cried like hell. Whenever I am unwell, I often say – I am feeling sick. Today I know what feeling ‘sick’ meant. I slipped down the stairs in Huay Xai. I have wounded elbows, I have wounded knees and I have a broken foot. I can’t walk and even worse – no more headstands for the next couple of weeks. And I am in Luang Prabang with possibly no access to anybody who can help me even a little in this. Now, I know that I am feeling really ‘sick’!!
I know it’s just a matter of time and I will be up and walking again. I may just use this time to re-organize myself a little bit. I can recall what I did in the last 15 days in Thailand, I can write about what I remember, I can watch movies and I can read my Yoga School Dropout. There’s still a lot I can do without having to walk.
Before I left India, I thought the next 4 months would help me test my limits. And today, I can say I am testing my limits. I am doing it all alone. I am in this country Laos which half of my friends didn’t know which continent is this in and I am in this place and managing myself all alone. Yes, I am doing it. ]
I spent the next couple of days in my hostel room with my foot turning blue to purple, after which I decided to get into a Tuk-tuk to see a doctor at the nearest Luang Prabang provincial hospital. The doctor gave me the ‘good news’ that I had fractured my foot and put a plaster cast for 3 weeks. I was still trying to convince myself that it was just a sprain but in the next few hours, decided to go back to India. I never knew how embarrassing it is to get into a wheelchair. I was in pain and I was mentally upset. The challenge was to not let a tear run down my eye. I was acting, in fact pretending bold. I was at the airport ready to board my flight back to India. I came back home to know that it was a fifth metatarsal fracture in my right foot and I needed the cast for at least 6 weeks. I never imagined how coming home could make me feel so bad. I couldn’t accept my fate for the first few days. Strangely, I felt so unwelcomed and uninvited at my parents’ place. I felt so handicapped. Initially, I thought ten times to even ask someone for a glass of water. Fortunately, everybody was so helping, but the independent free brave soul inside me just couldn’t take favors. This was not it! High fever hit me hard. It was a little annoying to hear – Your fever is out of frustration, your fever is psychological. I was struggling hard to survive. It was a fever of a totally different order. And I spent all my time to do some web research on ‘possible causes of fevers of unknown origin’, (something I strongly recommend to everybody- we have no reason to blindly follow our doctors and have every right to question them with what they are injecting into our bodies). I did get some undiagnosed treatment in Chandigarh and went to Bangalore thereafter. The fever relapsed. By then, I already had one month of fever. Doctors in Columbia Asia Hospital were trying to crack my case. I was testing negative for anything doctors could think of. Nevertheless, I was treated full course for Malaria and Typhoid, only to feel worse. My family was worried. And I was guilt stricken again. I was in pain but I felt I was more of a pain for everybody around me. I was wasting time and money, for everybody. But I had this love for my own life regrown in a totally different way. I was dying to live again. One fine day, a new doctor who is Infectious Diseases and Travel Medicine Consultant suspected a zoonosis class Rickettsia in me. She put me on the right medication and saved my life. (My doctor in Bangalore made diagrams on paper to explain me what my internal organs were going through. A small tip again – Find a doctor who likes to be questioned, who appreciates the fact that you know about things even if it is from your internet research. That’s as important as the real medication.)
I was losing my peace of mind, but all of that was happening internally. I was going through so much of physical and mental stress that I couldn’t share it with anybody. I was secretly praying all the time. While in bed, I used that time to calm my mind by reading Bhagavad Gita, which in one line, I would say was a life changing experience. After 2 months of fever and a broken foot, it feels like a re-birth now and the holy text explained me the very purpose of this life again.
All this while, I made sure not to share my physical, mental or emotional stress with anybody. I stayed calm. I talked to myself and survived it. Now that I feel better, I thought to put this in words. One thing is sure – the reason I could endure this whole situation is partly because of my solo travel experiences, because of my capacity to celebrate the good times and survive through the bad ones by myself.
The core of a man’s spirit comes from his experiences. All experiences will not be good. The challenge is to understand that good ones will not last forever and bad ones might not be that far off. Embrace all of them and learn a lesson. This will help rejoice the good times even more and survive the tough situations with more strength, always remembering that joy of life comes not just with the happy moments but with happy endings, with everything God has put for you. The last 2 months have turned me into a person, very different from the one I would have been by the end of the South East Asia trail and I embrace this change, I am happy about it. Sincerely thanking friends and family for all the support, I am set to rock it all again – to live my next dream of a student life in Paris! 🙂