Solo Travel – How the bug bit me

Today, 6th July marks the first anniversary of my first step into Solo Travel, hence the dedicated post. Two years in Bangalore and I hadn’t seen anything beyond Hogenakkal falls. Just a few weeks before my solo venture, I had been on hikes to Madhugiri Fort and  Skandagiri hills. But apart from that, nowhere – which was a real disappointment as Bangalore is one of the very few places centred around the most amazing and scenic locations in Karnataka, Kerela and Tamil Nadu as well.

We all wait for a plan to be coined, by friends or colleagues, to go out somewhere. I waited and waited, had planned a few times as well which could not materialise for one reason or another. And then comes a threshold, a brim where you are so frustrated just sitting around at your home, occasionally going out for a movie or dinner. That day came for me in June 2013 when I just wanted to run away from the city, office and personal life chaos.

I had been recommended a travel group called Nirvana Nomads long back, but I wouldn’t dare to go alone, needed at least one friend to accompany me. But no one agreed to the weekend plan to Wayanad for 6-7th July,2013 posted by that group. Well, I had had enough of the dependent nonsense and was fed up with myself for not roaming around at all. So I registered – yes, alone, knowing no one in that group except for the name of the organiser. Hell, I didn’t even know if there was any other girl joining the trip. Looking back, it baffles me how I could even dare to think about going with a random group of people on a weekend trip just like that.

It was still one week to go before the trip and by the mid of the week, I started getting panic attacks. I was frantically running around in office, asking my friends to come along, to not let me go solo – no luck. One day before the trip, the group mails all of us informing about the goods to carry. I take a look at it and am shocked to see rain-coat being one of them. Well, the last time I wore a rain coat, I was 9 or 10. Where the hell am I supposed to get one, one day before the trip! So I decided to work from home the next day, ran to the nearest mall and again ran around asking for rain coats. Luck was in favor, I was able to grab a wildcraft wind-cheater – men’s smallest size but I had no choice.

Okay, so now I am all set, but the second series of panic attacks were yet to come. I reach home, and am suddenly very scared about this unknown factor of the trip. Calling up my mom, crying truckloads, saying all kinds of crap like – “I will be all alone. No one will talk to me. Why am I doing this? I will be extremely bored. There will be all aunty-uncles with their kids on the bus” and what not! My mum and a very dear friend, somehow consoled me and encouraged me to do this, filling me with this hope of having awesome fun.

Fine, no turning back now, I open up the group mail thread and start scouring the list for people boarding the bus from the same pick-up point as mine. Yes, a girl, finally! I call her up and we meet around 9 to wait for the group bus. Listening to her travel experiences with this same group, I realise that I am not the only one doing something which I, to that point, considered extremely illogical. I was feeling okay at this point, well, I really had to because the bus was coming in 10 mins and I couldn’t have another of those crying episodes. The bus arrives, the organisers get down to meet us and whoa! I am in shock to see two very young guys and thinking “okay, so at least the age-factor is no more a concern”. Next, I step into the bus and see the whole crowd and I am thanking God in all might for not sending any uncles and aunties and small kids, for sending a very good mix of guys and gals around the same age-group!

The journey starts and as we all go about introducing ourselves, talking about our backgrounds, I am suddenly extremely happy to have taken this step. Almost all the people in that group had come alone, knowing no one at all, all in search of new friends and looking forward to an adventurous weekend. I am totally out of my discomfort zone now 🙂 . Intros done, the consensus is to play antakshari and off we start. The game was never ending, people going nuts recollecting their song selection from “na”, some cheating by googling the songs but no one is backing out. I think we broke the record of the longest antakshari ever since when someone asked for the time, it was 5 am. WHAT! We played for almost 6 hours straight and the organizers had to really plead people to go to sleep since we had a busy day ahead!

Organizers very casually slipping in "leeches"
Organizers very casually slipping in “leeches”

Next morning, well a few hours after we had slept off, the destination arrives and we disembark. The sight in front of my eyes, tea-gardens all around and itwas raining. It was the first time I had come out of Bangalore, and seeing that magnificent sight just made me realise how idiotic I could be to even care about the less important things about the group n all. But no,  my nightmare was yet to arrive. During the breakfast, someone started talking about leeches. I – “Err, what???”, People – “There will be leeches during the trek to Chembra, carry salt.”, I -“OH MY DEAR LORD! what did I do!”  While I did not get anytime to get over the leech panic, someone points out a leech near my feet. I must have woken up the whole valley with my shriek I think :-/  Okay, so this is what a leech looks like and it sucks blood. And you needn’t worry since leech bite is good for health. Are you kidding me?? I am healthy enough to not want a leech to purify my blood – thank you very much!

Pookut late
Pookut late

No escaping now Ankita, from Wayanad or leeches. We start for Pookut lake post breakfast, stopping on our way to see the Wayanad valley. Each and every sight was mesmerising, I had never seen or experienced being in between the clouds like that. But my mind was still lurking around the leeches 😐 The lake was beautiful and so was the boat-ride but << “umm.. leeches, what am I going to do…” >> Guess what happens after we come back from the lake visit ? We go for a stroll in tea-gardens, sounds good doesn’t it ? But oh no! That’s where the actual leech attack happens, since it was raining cats and dogs and we were going through a highly vegetated route. Guys being so kind, would stop as soon as I shouted and come over to pluck off the leeches from my shoes. This nightmare lasted for some 20-25 minutes, with my continuous cries for help 😛

Reaching back to our home-stay, I declared that I am not going to visit Chembra Peak, the leech trailor was enough to last for a lifetime for me. But the gals and the guys wouldn’t let me reside in my safe-zone. So the next morning, we all get ready, I was screaming inside my head on the thoughts of leeches sucking my blood. That’s when I hear about these three guys in our group who have a solid leech protection plan around the legs – any guesses ??

Legs wrapped up in garbage bags stuck around with duct tape – yes, that was the ultimate protection device present. And of course, I went for it and I am glad I did. Because wearing that, however ridiculous it looked, made me extremely carefree.

See the legs? :P
See the legs? 😛

Now I was all ready to conquer Chembra Peak and the gods were extremely kind on that day to not rain. The weather was breezy and cold, but no leeches at all on the path to the peak. The stop – heart-shaped lake was just like I had seen in pictures and always marvelled at the shape. The trek was amazing, not difficult at all and beautiful throughout the journey.

Heart of Chembra :)
Heart of Chembra 🙂

Our journey back to Bangalore started post our trek and needless to say, the journey was super-fun with continuous rounds of dumb charades and antakshari not letting some poor souls sleep.  I couldn’t speak, forget sing for a week after that trip 😀 It was one of the happiest weekends of my life, seeing such beautiful sights, meeting such awesome like-minded people and making some really good friends. This trip also made me realise how freaking awesome I was at singing and remembering the lyrics to Bollywood songs 😛

Reaching back home, I couldn’t wait to enrol for another trip for the coming weekends. That is what this trip did to me. Making me confident enough to venture out alone, meet adventurous people and gain pals for life. Thank you Nomads, it all started with you and it’s hasn’t ended and you lived up to your name; since in the end, I did achieve Nirvana 🙂 And that my friends, was my toddler step to solo travel.

Nirvana'ed Nomad