I was going through a phase in life when nothing really seemed to make me happy. I knew I needed to connect with myself, to feel free and alive again. For a long time traveling solo was on my checklist, I thought this was the perfect time to go to a new place by myself with no expectations. I was up for anything off beat, no tourist trap, just something simple and peaceful.
I spent a lot of time searching for that perfect place and found a small Himalayan village, Hamta. Airbnb was a good option for scouting home stays in such offbeat locations. My Airbnb was an old Himachali house made of wood and layered with mud. It seemed perfect for me. I contacted Huzefa, my host immediately and bought tickets for Manali.
After a long bus ride I was in Manali, tired but excited. The first thing I did was go straight for lunch, my favorite grilled Himalayan trout. The crisp mountain air was already making me feel better. I met Huzefa at the café, after a get to know each other and what's happening in town over coffee, we started walking towards Hamta. This village is the starting point for the Hamta pass which connects Manali to Spiti. The village is situated 800 meters above Manali. Not many people know the village is an excellent location for skiing and snowboarding in winters.
The path to the village was steep and long, the landscape was slowly changing, we were gradually moving away from busy Manali to a quainter small village. The long walk gave us plenty of time to talk. My host was a local from Mumbai, he had left the crazy city life and came to the valley a few years to live his dreams. He had leased two houses from the locals and rented them to travelers via Airbnb. A physics enthusiast, intelligent and an adventurous spirited person. We were half way through when his neighbors, Vikas and his wife Tashi were driving by. They offered us a lift, I thought it was a good idea, as the sun was already setting and I was starting to feel tired.
As we drove we found a few hikers on the way, who were walking in the darkness. They offered them a lift as well and here I was cramped up in a car full of strangers. I was a bit apprehensive but more than that I was tired as hell by now. Vikas and Tashi asked us to join them for dinner at their place. They run a café and a camping site for tourists on their property. We all drank a local whiskey to call it a day. They taught me to play a Tibetan board game, while Tashi prepared dinner for us. By now I didn't care I was with strangers or the fact that I was tired. The experience of travelling alone was dawning upon me.
When I finally reached my Airbnb I was slightly baffled. It looked exactly like the pictures on Airbnb but the thought of sleeping here alone just scared the shit out of me.
The next morning when I woke up I had this feeling of accomplishment, I had survived the night by myself! I went to my balcony and when I saw the view I had a huge smile, I knew I had made a daymn good decision. The view of the valley was absolutely gorgeous from my balcony, no hotel could give me this kind of an experience.
It was a lovely morning. I made myself some tea and drew this lovely view on a sheet of paper.
A brand new day was ahead of me, I decided to step out and explore the place. As soon as I did, I met a man and a child, they inquired who am I and what I was doing here by myself. They were amused I was travelling alone. Soon the man's wife joined us, her name was Dolma. She said that I should come for breakfast if I hadn't eaten yet. Their house was adjacent to mine, I had neighbors who invited me for a meal. What a wonderful feeling.
My neighbors were a Buddhist family from Spiti, Dolma and her husband lived in this small cottage. The couples daughter, son and his wife, had come over to help them with some household chores. Dolma’s daughter Rajni was beautiful, she had the most calming face. Rajni had a six year old son Tenzin. The boy was well behaved and a little shy. They made me aalu paratha and tea for breakfast, little Tenzin served me and called me Didi. I could not be more thankful and happy.
The family seemed busy with packing, I was curious what was going on. Dolma told me they were going to the jungle to collect the woods and make a little picnic, they said I should join them if I wished to. I had no agenda for the day, so I decided to go with them.
Soon Rajni's husband also joined us, somehow seven of us fitted in their little Maruti 800. Being with strangers felt normal now, making spontaneous plans with them was kind of thrilling. I believe when you are open and ready to receive, your vibrations will attract similar vibrations, simple laws of attraction.
The family was informed few trees had fallen off in the jungle and they were going to collect and store it for the winters. I was pleased to know they mostly collect the woods only when a tree has fallen on its own. They respected nature and understood the forest in and out. Once we were on our location everyone got down to work. Chopping and cutting those heavy wood logs seemed like a lot of hard work. I offered them help but they said, you go play with Tenzin. Maybe they didn't trust that I can handle the laborious work, maybe it's true. Although I did had a good time with the kid.
Dolma quickly made some fire and made tea for all of us, I was loving every moment of our little picnic. As we all sat down and relaxed with tea, we got to know each other. Her son was an engineer, had a job in the city but he absolutely hated it, came back and started working in Manali. Similar story for Rajni's husband. Our curiosities to know each other lead to many conversations. I was touched by the simplicity and humbleness of this family.
The vegetation around us was thriving in that monsoon season, many varieties of flowers and wild mushrooms were growing. I looked up the sky, it was a bit patchy with few clouds, the sound of the raven echoed in the jungle.
Later that afternoon the family asked me to join them for lunch. I was amazed how often people here invited me for meals.
We all sat on the floor and had daal chawal with home made ghee and curd, it was delicious. Spending so much time with them I was getting to know the family better, certainly Dolma was the backbone of the family. I got to know their point of views on the country's current situation, politics, the things they liked and disliked. Their lives revolved a lot around the weather, it affected them tremendously, things are not easily accessible especially in winters. They worked hard to sustain themselves. I realized living in cities we take everything for granted, here sometimes even a potato is a delicacy.
We were engulfed in endless conversations and it was almost evening, Dolma announced we should celebrate Independence day over drinks. Her son in law, she and I drank whiskey together, while others made us snacks. I felt like the chief guest of honor. Getting drunk with my new friends was such a happy moment.
Every thing that I felt back in the city seemed to be fading away, I felt liberated, connected and happy. Meanwhile I occasionally went to Vikas bhai's camp as well, I met some interesting fellow travelers their, had some beautiful conversations with them. Good food, nice people and alcohol seemed to be everywhere there. Thanks to Facebook, I still keep in touch with some of them.
On my last day I just wanted to relax, read a book and take aimless walks in the nature. There was so much to absorb.
I went to say goodbye to my neighbors, Rajni told me she would like to knit me woolen socks and send it to me. It was a beautiful gesture. They asked me to visit them soon and next time stay with them. So much love these people had. My neighbors turned out to be the highlight of my trip. I was sad to leave but happy to go back with such amazing memories.
After about five months I was at work and received a call from Rajni, asking if I had received the package. I was like what package? When I went back to my desk I found a package addressed to me. I opened it and there it was, my woolen socks from Hamta! These were the best socks I ever had, meticulously knitted, super warm an above all made with love.
The woolen socks from Hamta were here. Perhaps one of the best surprise's.
Thinking back of that time, I feel so rich with those memories. Traveling solo was an incredible experience, I think all women should travel solo at least once in their lives, it has so much to offer. You will surprise yourself and in the end hopefully you will find yourself.