Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview (29) - Shalini

Hi! I am Shalini ( 36 )and I was born in a small town in eastern India.  I started solo travel way back in 2008 and there has been no looking back.  I am a school teacher by profession and it is because of my profession that I am able to carry out my passion . Also , it is because of my passion that I am able to reach out to my students and give them a first hand knowledge about the various places, cultures and people from my various trips.  I have an adventurous bent of mind, hence each trip has me doing something which gives me an adrenalin rush or a fantastic experience which I can replay in my mind till the next trip. I enjoy planning my various trips and I love being able to fulfill each one of them. My bucket list is full of white knuckle sports and places that I wish to visit. Travelling has taught me to live while so many others still exist. I believe that everything happens for a reason and it is better to accept than to resist.....I say so even for trains and flights that I have missed and trips that I have had to cancel.

  1. What was your inspiration or the event/idea that made you want to travel?

During my college days, I had seen  a music video shot near a very beautiful blue lake in the mountains. I did not know the name of that place and due to a lack of internet access, I could not trace it out. The desire to visit that place was always there at the back of my mind. Having started my job, I did not get enough leaves and soon the whole idea of travel vanished from my life. But, in 2007, when I broke up with my then boyfriend, I decided that the best way to get over the whole thing was to travel. The only place that came to my mind was that beautiful blue lake.I started spending hours on google to trace out the blue lake in the mountains. Voila!! I was so surprised to know that the place was none other than Ladakh. I went to Ladakh in 2008 and I am already planning my fourth visit to that place. I found love in the mountains and in travelling.

2. What was your first travel experience? 

When I was in school, I was part of the athletics team and we had to go to various parts of India to participate in the Inter School Athletics Competitions. It was then that I started enjoying the whole idea of travelling .  

3. Have you ever felt lonely when travelling alone?

I don't really feel lonely but it was once, when during a trip I had fallen ill. I had to stay in my hotel room for two days and I missed having a companion . Apart from that one off incident, I enjoy travelling alone as I can do what I want, I can change my plans , extend my stay and eat just what I want to. 

4. Do you have any fun stories or things that happened to you that you realised  even at that time , " This never would have happened if I had been travelling with someone else ?"

Coming to think of it, there are quite a few actually. But the one that I vividly remember is when I first travelled solo. I was new to solo travelling and hence I did not keep in mind the finer points. I had spoken to other travellers staying in the same guest house as me and they had all mentioned a trek covering quite a lot of Leh on foot. So, there I was, all eager and bright eyed, ready for my first venture around the city. It started off well till I lost my way and I kept going around in circles. It was getting hot and sunny and it was way past lunch time and I had carried absolutely nothing to munch on, and Murphy's law had placed me in an area where there were no eateries. It must have been pretty obvious because an old Ladaki gentleman beckoned me to where he was sitting and asked me if I were lost.  I immediately put up my bravest face and said 'No'. He must have read my face , because he smiled and then called out to his wife and grandson. They asked me to have lunch with them and then his grandson walked me back to where my guest house was. Sadly, I lost them to the 2010 flashflood .

5. What was your best travel experience?

I was on my way to Tso Moriri in Ladakh. My driver Karma ( Everytime I visit Ladakh, Karma has been my driver) decided to surprise me and he took me to this little tent owned by some Nomads. Language ofcourse was a BIG problem, but as they say, love has no boundaries. The ladies of the household gave me a huge hug and invited me into their tent to have butter tea and dried meat. They hardly had much, but they were happier than many I know. The little girl Pema who was about 2 years old was just as happy to play with two pieces of stones as any other girl her age would be to play with Barbie.  Travelling teaches us a lot more than text books. That day I truly learnt that one need not be the richest to be happy. Parties, trendy clothes, latest gizmo etc are all superficial happiness.It is in the simple things in life that give us genuine happiness. 

Another time , when I was in Poland, I was staying  at a family friend's place for a few days. I was invited by the Principal of the school in which my family friend's daughter worked.I was requested to interact with the children who were learning English . I was also requested to wear an Indian attire if I could. I was carrying a sari and so I put it on during my visit. The children as well as the teachers were left with gaping mouths when I explained to them that a sari is 9 yards long and unstitched . The children even put up a small song and dance recital for me. Later I was invited to the Principal's office for some mouth watering Polish cakes and tea..............It was one of the best starts to the day.

Bungee jumping over the Nile in Uganda. I still can't get over it.

6. What was your worst travel experience?

I can think of none. Each experience was just a new lesson to be learnt. 

7. Is there anything you would have done differently, any regrets if you could do it over again?

On my first visit to Italy, I felt lost. Just before the trip I had a pretty bad experience which had left me shaken and with not much time in hand to work out my plan.  In Italy, I more or less left it to my host to decide my itinerary. She did her best and I am grateful for that but I REALLY regret not being able to spend more time in Rome and in Florence. I would have loved to wander around the ruins of Rome and the streets of Florence. I also regret being uninformed about the timing for visiting the Vatican museum. On the flipside, I do feel it is just a sign that I will be visiting Italy all over again.  :)

8. Where will you never return to?

I love revisiting places as it helps me know the place better and meet the nice people I get to know on my first visit.

9. What advice would you give to women travelling alone to your home country?

Wear sensible clothes that do not attract unwanted attention.
Stay in hotels that are in proper areas. Budgeting is good but safety comes first.
Do not wander alone after 9 PM.
Always better to approach the traffic police or the local women when asking for direction.
Carry your common sense and think twice before you act on something.
India is a lovely country and the people are wonderful. So come and enjoy the place and the culture.

10. What are your future travel plans ?

I am planning a trip around Karnataka and this time I even plan to experience couch surfing. :) Sometime later in the year I plan to club with a college friend and backpack around Vietnam and Cambodia.

11. What are your top three tips for women travelling solo ?

People are good by nature. So when in doubt, be open to ask for advice and suggestion.
Wear sensible clothes. 
Listen to your guts. If something feels wrong, turn around and walk away.

12. What would you tell women who are looking to travel alone but worry about their safety?

Alone is a scary word, but when joined with travelling it becomes addictive. Initially I was nervous and scared and regretted leaving on a trip alone. Slowly I realised that the world wasn't such a bad place and people were nice and always ready to help. Before leaving home, try and find out as much as you can about the place and the various things to do there. Google, use trip advisor , read up reviews and chalk up your plan accordingly. Join travel forums and discuss the trip with other travellers who have been there. I have managed to get information on some wonderful bargains and places to stay in just by talking to other travellers in the travel forums. Last but not the least, I always harp on one thing, 'Trust your own instinct".

13. What items do you always carry when travelling ?

I always carry my camera, a good book , good music , emergency contact numbers and an Angel talisman given to me by a lovely person whom I had met on one of my trips.

14. How do you pay for a life of travel ?

In my profession I get to know when my holidays are and so I plan all my trips much in advance. I book tickets when there are sales and discounts. I also try to avoid peak seasons for travelling. I have managed the best bargains during off seasons. I save a lot by eating at home and by shopping only when I really need to. 

15. What have you learnt from travelling ?

Travelling solo has helped me to become more open . I have learnt to accept situations, I have learnt to be patient and I have learnt to be self dependent. I have learnt that people in general are good and helpful. I know I have a lot more to learn and each trip shows me my strength and my weakness..........solo travel has taught me a lot about myself. I also learnt that I can survive with fewer number of clothes and shoes. :)

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