Last year there was a time when I was going through a phase, I was lost and mentally not at peace. I wanted to connect with myself, working full time, meeting friends etc wasn't really helping. I was burdened with my own emotions, I wanted to feel free and alive.
For a long time traveling solo was on my checklist, I thought this is the perfect time to go to a completely new place by myself with zero expectations. I was up for anything off beat, no tourist trap - simple and peaceful. I spent a lot of time searching on the internet and found Hamta village which is above Manali, it seemed quaint and perfect. Airbnb was a good option for scouting home stays in such offbeat locations. The property I found was nowhere close to a hotel, it was an old Himachali house made of wood and layered with mud. It was perfect - I was sold, contacted Huzefa my host immediately and bought my tickets.
After a long bus journey I was in Manali tired but excited. Huzefa and I planned to meet in a cafe, from there he took me to the village. The village is en route the famous Hamta pass which connects Manali to Spiti, it is situated 800 meters above the Manali town. He told me Hamta is an excellent location for skiing and snowboarding in winters, the village receives a good amount of snow.
The path to the village was steep and long, it was an 800 meters ascend. The long walk gave us plenty time to talk. My host was a local from Mumbai, he had left the crazy city life and was living in the valley from the last few years. He was a physics enthusiast, intelligent and adventurous, we spoke about a lot of stuff happening around us. We walked half way and thought to take a lift from one of the neighbors, Vikas and his wife Tashi who were going up in their car. I thought it was a good idea, it had started to get dark and I was super tired. I noiticed it is common in the hills to take or give lifts to people.
As we drove we found few hikers walking in the darkness, they were going for the Hamta pass trek. We offered them a lift and here I was cramped up in a car full of strangers and I had absolutely no idea where we were going. I admit I was a bit scared but more than that tired as hell, I just wanted to crash. Vikas and his wife ran a small camp, very close to the place I was going to stay. They offered me to come for dinner at their camp. We all drank a local whiskey and chatted about what not. By now I didn't care I was with strangers, I was enjoying every bit of it.
Huzefa and Vikas teaching me a Tibetian game, while Tashi making us dinner.
When I reached my room 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 room was stacked with basic necessities and some lovely books.
The next morning when I woke up I went to my balcony, the view of the valley was mesmerizing - I had a huge smile and a feeling of some kind of accomplishment. I had survived the night by myself.
My balcony had the world's best view.
The best airbnb guest house.
I enjoyed my morning, painting in my balcony, sipping tea, I decided to step down to explore the place. Downstairs I met a man and a child, they inquired who I am and what I was doing here by myself. 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. I was delighted!
They were a Buddhist family from Spiti, Dolma and her husband lived in this small cottage, their daughter and son had joined them on the holiday to help the couple in doing 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. Domla's daughter in law was also here, she was beautiful too just like most of the Himachali women. They made me aalo paratha and tea, little Tenzin served me and called me didi , I could not be more thankful.
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 could join them if I wished to. It was Independence day, probably the best one I ever celebrated.
Rajni's husband joined us, somehow seven of us got in the small Maruti 800. I was again with complete strangers, by now I was comfortable hanging out with unknown people. I believe when you are open and ready to receive, your vibrations or energies attract similar such energies and vibrations - simple laws of attraction.
Celebrating Independence day in my way.
They were informed few trees had fallen off 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 falls off on its own, they respected nature and understood the forest in and out. It seemed like lot of hard work, everybody in the family was helping to do this chore. I offered them help but they asked me to play with Tenzin. Maybe they dind't trust that I can handle the laborious work, maybe it's true. I did had a good time with the kid though.
Dolma and Tenzin all set.
Dolma's daughter in law collecting the woods.
Exploring the local vegetation.
Beautiful family of Dolma.
Dolma made us tea, it was a real picnic in the beautiful coniferous forest. Her son was an engineer, had a job in a 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 figured most mountain people are humble and genuine.
Dolma preparing tea for us.
On our way back.
Later that afternoon the family asked me to join them for lunch. Daal chawal with home made ghee and curd, it was delicious. We all sat on the floor and had the meal. It was a good opportunity to know them more. I wanted to know what were their point of view on the country's current situation, politics, the things they liked, disliked, to see if we are alike or different. Their lives revolved a lot around the weather, it affected them tremendously, things are not easily accessible specially in winters, they work hard to sustain. Living in cities we take everything for granted, here sometimes even a potato is a delicacy.
We had endless conversations and it was almost evening, Dolma announced we should celebrate Independence day over drinks. Her son in law, her and I drank whiskey together, while the other women made us snacks I was having a time of my life, getting drunk with my new friends.
Dolma pouring us whiskey, while her husband wants to make some pictures.
Every thing that I felt back in the city seemed to be fading, I felt liberated, connected and insanely happy. Meanwhile I occasionally went to Vikas bhai's camp also, where I met some interesting fellow travelers, had beautiful conversations with them. Good food, nice people and alcohol seemed to be everywhere here. Thanks to Facebook, I still keep in touch with some of them.
View from Vikas's camp, Backwoods mountain camp.
View of my guest house from the valley below.
On my last day I just wanted to relax, read a book and take aimless walks in the nature. I was sad to leave but happy to go back with good memories. Rajni told me she would knit me a woolen socks, and asked for my number. They asked to visit them again and next time stay with them. The gesture was heart warming.
Chill out on the last day.
After five months at work I receive 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 and I was speechless. She made me those woolen socks! I could not believe it. These were the best socks I ever had, it was so meticulously knitted and super warm.
The woolen socks from Hamta were here. Perhaps one of the best surprise's.
Thinking back of that time, I feel so rich, made memories for life, which always gives me good energies. Traveling solo was an incredible experience , I can not wait to make more of such trips. 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 you will find yourself.