“Travel is never a matter of money, but of courage.” – T. S. Eliot
The meaning of travelling extends beyond just moving from one place to another. One travels in search of something, to explore something and even to discover something. One of the meanings the word, travel has, is to proceed or to move forward. And such an advance happens emotionally and intellectually too.
I have travelled with my family and my friends. I have travelled alone too, but for various purposes. But last December was when I took up my Solo Trip, for the first time. Solo Trips are now a fad, especially for women. To me, this solo trip meant much more than independence and self-reliance. For a person like me who is fond of living together with family and having fun with friends, this solo trip was indispensable since I decided to enjoy my own company. All the more because I had postponed and called off numerous exploratory and fun trips because the agreed companions would drop out as the planned trip neared.
I grew up listening to the adage, travel the world and read the books to earn wisdom. While my library boasts of books that enrich my knowledge, my travel expeditions were still in its infancy. I always believed that people, like books, too have something to teach us. And the only way to read people is to meet them, and meeting them meant exploring new places. I wasted no more time and planned my first Solo Trip because it is one way how I can plan the trip the way I want and not tailor it to please or comfort others. Since this was my first solo trip, I wanted it to be very special, evidently a place that I hadn’t been to earlier, and in India because I was funding it myself and did not want to burden my bank account. I chose Goa. Goa, in the Christmas weekend meant heavy on the pocket. But I found no reason to think of a second destination. I booked my accommodation just a day after I zeroed in on Goa, because I didn’t want to give a second thought to my solo trip. Since I wanted my trip to be a blend of both fun and budget, I booked a bed at an upscale backpacker’s hostel. My experience at such a place was first, and extremely wonderful, an account of which will follow soon. I planned the trip for only four days as I couldn’t get more days off from my work. My travel tickets were confirmed too, as though a go ahead sign.
My mother has brought me up to be independent and my father has only complemented her upbringing by believing in my capability to manage on my own, especially when travelling. Therefore, I never had the trouble of convincing my family about my first solo trip. A few of my friends were excited and happy for me, while a few tried to warn and also terrorise me. However, my conviction would not be deterred, and off I went to Goa, the dream destination both for a Christmas holiday and New Year.
I landed in Goa on an early Saturday morning. I took to public transport to reach my hostel for two reasons, the first being that I can see the local people and experience the everyday living of those people, and the second being a safer mode of transport, my being a girl, than a cab or a rickshaw, in an alien place and early morning. The smell of fish first greeted me as I hopped on to the bus. I then sighted the local fisherwomen adorned with jewellery, perhaps the Goan style. I greeted them with a smile, the only language that can universally communicate with anyone, including a baby. Luckily, I got a window seat to enjoy the view of the town. The way to my hostel, had a lush green cover on both the sides, and it made me happy considering the reducing greenery in most of the places in India. I reached my destination and walked to the hostel that was half a kilometre away from the bus stop.
The backpacker’s hostel I was going to stay in, welcomed me with colourful wall art and quirky taglines. The receptionist at the hostel was very hospitable. I had reached earlier than the check-in time but I was informed in advance that I could use the common area to wait and rest my luggage, and the common washrooms. I freshen up and headed to their cafeteria to order my breakfast. While I waited for my breakfast to arrive, I picked up the local English newspapers to look for the events of the day so that I could plan the places to visit. Yes, I came to Goa with no plan. I was wondering what I could do for four days in Goa, and consulted the hostel manager before I arrived. That is when I was told that I could interact with the like-minded backpackers in the hostel, and that I would alter my plan myself, which sounded exciting to me. I thus decided to go like an empty cup so that I could fill in the most with experiences to cherish for my lifetime. My breakfast arrived and I got back to browsing for events and places soon after I finished my aloo parathas.
As I was still wondering where to start with, I could hear the receptionist murmur to another backpacker that I came from Karnataka. Ah, that was enough commonness for the backpacker to break the ice with me. We connected instantly on Karnataka and Kannada, the language mostly spoken in Karnataka. He had his childhood buddy, who is from Karnataka too, accompanying him to Goa. They asked me if I was willing to join them for the day, and boy did I say no. I grew up in a conservative environment, and the cultural indoctrination and the ubiquitous crimes against women had definitely dreaded me into being suspicious about every boy or man I encountered. I was always more guarded than required when it came to interacting with men. I couldn’t care less in throwing a cold shoulder to every man I encountered, outside my family. I knew that not all men are beastly, and so, it was time I started trusting some, although it was a risk. This is why I said yes to the two men who invited me to join them. They were my companions for the next three days of touring in Goa. Other than Karnataka and Kannada, another common factor that connected us was vegetarian food. This was important to me only because I didn’t want to be a wet blanket among the sea food enthusiasts, and Goa, if it is known for something other than beaches, it is the sea food. Both the men were gentlemen. They respected my space graciously. When I told them I don’t consume alcoholic beverages, neither wine, nor beer, nor a breezer, they left the choice to me, and did not lecture me into “This is not alcohol” or “A little will do no harm”.
Throughout our stay, we visited a few beaches and soaked in the sun. But there were other things that made my trip memorable. Our conversation then started, travelling from perspectives, dignity of labour, to women empowerment, the freedom of choice. I must mention that I had missed such sensible talk for quite some time. I had distanced myself from the small talkers, fault finders and gossip mongers. I felt enriched with the kind of conversation I was having with these two. And we comfortably opened up to one another for we had no fear of being judged for who we are. In the late evening, we headed to a club, and the dance floor opened a few hours to Christmas. We sang, and we danced. Most importantly, I was guarded by my two new friends. Just some hours into our socializing, and they made me feel like family. The very mention of Goa raises eyebrows for the kind of behaviour people demonstrate there, and especially under the influence of alcohol. As conservative people, we mostly incline towards the negatives of a way of living. At times we term it, bad culture. But I could see a different Goa.
The second day was another beach day, but what was more fascinating was our discussion about books. We fished out many titles and authors from our memory, and exchanged our wish list of books. The learning, unlearning and relearning that started the previous day, had continued to the following day, especially to me since I studied Sanskrit and English literature for most part of my schooling and college, and very little of Kannada literature. And my two new friends had mastered Kannada literature. That evening, we sat down on the beach around eleven in the night. Our literary discussion had flown from prose to poetry. There was so much for me to know and learn. We then brought in astronomy and science, leaving behind fenny, clubs and parties for others. The intellectual duo mesmerized me with their exquisite usage of Kannada language, and their fine selection of names for their children, and their keenness for artistic taste and aesthetic sense. As day was ending, I felt all the knowledge that I had acquired was miniscule. But an eternal learner that I am, I was more excited to dive deeper into the ocean of wisdom.
The last day (with my new friends) was less eventful since the three of us could already sense the pain of parting. We visited a church in old Goa, and then a fort but we hardly spoke much that day. Perhaps our silence was full of expression. We did not want to start anymore conversation for we knew it would be interrupted unwillingly. We had had the best of moments to experience as strangers in a strange place. We parted, not before we endlessly thanked one another for the unforgettable experience we gifted one another. I still believe it is them, who made my first solo trip the most memorable.
There were so many things I got from this trip. I found a new me who is outgoing, cheerful and I could see myself wear my heart on my sleeve. A loquacious girl that I am, I had become silent and receptive of all that my new friends had to say. I wasn’t listening, but learning. I wasn’t mum, but meditating. I wasn’t a monk, but definitely spiritual. While many relate spirituality with pilgrimages and Asian mountains, I could find tranquility in the bustling of Goa. I would treasure this trip till my grave. I live for the moment as I religiously believe in, “You Only Live Once”. Hence, I do not want to live a life of regrets. And in my last moments, this trip to Goa is definitely a frame in the replay of my life’s best moments, because, I found bliss in Goa, not in fenny, seafood, beaches or parties, but in these two amazing gentlemen – my gems from Goa.