My friend once joked that I was the most popular loner he’d ever met. That’s not to say I don’t love people, because my life is a web of human connection. I just need time to recharge, to get back the energy I put into my relationships and fall in love with my own solitude, which is something I think we should all learn to do.
In the days leading up my 16-day Real Rajasthan trip with Intrepid, my inner loner spent her time trying to catch my attention with eye rolls and reminders of my aversion to a strict routine and constant company. Luckily, my dislike of unwarranted negativity and close-mindedness was stronger. How could I justify my judgements made about something I had never experienced? I couldn’t and I’m glad I didn’t because now, my inner loner was proven wrong.
India is a giant book- and it’s a dense read
There is a lot to learn about India and some passages that you won’t quite understand. So, it’s incredibly valuable to have someone who has the book memorised to help you through the introduction. This is one of the many benefits of having a local guide. Someone who can remind you of the name of that noodle-y dish you love so much, the one you struggle to find because you don’t know what to ask for (it’s called Poha). Someone to help you understand the different tiers of train travel and the necessity of ensuring that your bus ticket has the words Volvo and AC on them because this is the difference between life and death. Okay, maybe that’s overdramatic but when travelling during India’s hot seasons it’s definitely the difference between comfort and wondering whether a human can drown in their own sweat.
We know it means no worries. And it applies here because all those tedious essentials, like booking accommodation, are organised. This is fantastic for India, which is not like the many countries I’ve been before as a solo traveller. It’s a hectic place and although the beauty and adventure lie in its disorder, you can’t just scroll through Hostelworld the day before you arrive in a city and be sure you’re getting what you paid for. Having someone who knows the good from the bad is a huge stress reliever.
Another thing I needn’t have worried about was being restricted by an organised routine. Aside from being hypnotised by the Taj Mahal and a dramatic fort or two, we were left up to our devices. This allowed me to do what I love most when travelling: take my backpack and just start walking. It was the best of both worlds. The tour got me from point A to B but in-between it was up to me.
Meeting the local people in India was hands down, pockets full of samosas, the best part of the tour. Intrepid has established relationships with locals across India’s and you get to ride on their coattails and meet some incredible individuals.
The highlight for me occurred in Jaisalmer, the Golden city. It’s an exceptionally beautiful piece of Rajasthan but likes to challenge you with 45 degree Celsius days and limited shade. I was churning through seven litres of water and three t-shirts a day when I was introduced by my local leader to Gapu, the owner of an exquisite textile shop filled with hand embroidered meditation mats and duvet covers made from the wedding dresses of gypsy women. Our tour stayed in Jaisalmer for three days and each day Gapu allowed me to write in his shop, offering escape from the oppressive heat, as his was one of the only buildings in town with air conditioning. He would bring me iced teas and ask questions about Australia’s beaches, as he had never been to the ocean. Meeting Gapu was such a gift and our friendship is one I treasure. He taught me so much about India’s history and the richness of its traditions. When I asked whether he liked living in Jaisalmer’s Golden Fort, his reply, overflowing with gratitude, embodied the way the people of India interact with this world, “most importantly Rose, I like living”.
My local leader
I feel incredibly lucky to have been introduced to such a magical country by my local leader, an Indian woman named Varsha. She described her job as “giving her wings” and it was a blessing to behold. Finding work in India is tough and money is scarce. In Delhi, I saw a line at least a kilometre long of people like me, in their early twenties. Varsha explained that they were recent graduates applying for a government position. Thousands of applicants for one job.
My advice is to take advantage of having a local leader, and be curious about everything. Varsha helped me understand the challenges faced by Indian women, reminded me that freedom is not to be taken for granted and opportunities are not to be slept on. I am grateful for having been able to share life experiences with Varsha on desert dunes and have her translate a powerful street performance in Delhi, where young men used their art to call for an end to violence against women.
My inner loner now knows that even those who swear they will never go on a group tour, can sometimes find themselves sitting at their desk months later, bursting with gratitude for that very experience.
You can experience this magical country, just like a local, on an Intrepid small group tour of India.
Hero image by Rose Alateras.