Life in itself is the best teacher that we could ever have. Sometimes there are moments in life that would change our perspective for good. Deciding to travel solo to Varanasi was one of those moments for me.
There was a time in my life when I used to feel so helpless, living in monotony in a constant rut of random corporate jobs, not being able to understand what happiness is or how I could make things better. I could feel the struggle inside me daily, like I was stuck in this dark place forever with no way out. Then one day I decided to quit my job. Without any direction, but with a hope to start somewhere.
Traveling was something that I always enjoyed but I never got to experience it enough. So, when I quit my job, I decided to set my priorities in life differently. When you feel like you have hit rock bottom, there is nothing more to lose. Probably that’s why the impulse idea of going to Varanasi felt so easy to carry out. My younger sister would often ask me to travel solo and I used to wonder “What’s the big deal? Are we not seeing the same place whether you go alone or otherwise?” So with no expectations whatsoever, I booked the tickets for the very next day.
Everything felt great until I landed at the Varanasi airport. There was this anxiety growing inside me, I could feel my chest getting heavy and I was on a high alert mode. Things did not get much better either. As the cab I booked did not go till my place of stay, I had to get down 5-6 km from Bengali Tola and figure out my way. Being an Indian did not help with the culture shock. The chaos was nothing like the places that I had visited so far- the roads were super narrow and it was over burdened with constantly honking vehicles. Here I was hoping for a spiritual journey and this was a far cry from what I had imagined. The only way to reach my place was to take an electric rickshaw on sharing basis which meant that half my body was out of the vehicle (no pun intended). The stares of the people gave me insane thoughts, “I’m a single lady traveler. I could get groped, conned and I’m going to die here.”. I had to follow the map and walk another kilometer to reach my accommodation, so I walk on my high alert mode and I’m lost in the middle of nowhere, a random street away from the main road with many local shops and strange faces. “Anupama, this is it, you have not even started your journey and you are done” said my pessimistic head.
I expected people to give rude responses when I asked for the directions and this was the moment I would stand corrected. My amazing journey started from right there when a random uncle called me “Beta”, a gender neutral word for child in Hindi. So he was like “Beta, don’t worry, you are not lost and I will guide you”. His words resonated assurance and I felt this sudden relief. I reached my hostel, eventually – safe and sound.
I will not bore you with the entire story of my journey now, that’s probably for a later time. But this was a classic example of how we all have preconceived notions about people and places from the vibes we get. First impression is definitely not the best impression. Varanasi is one of the oldest holy places in India and looks like a remote, crude place for travelers. You need to walk around dirty streets, there are humongous cows and cow dung everywhere. And street dogs and monkeys loiter around in the wee hours. If you have a brave heart to face these perils and still find warm hearted, benevolent people there, you are fortunate like me.
Traveling solo meant I had the freedom to choose. There was no one to influence my decision to stay at a backpacker’s hostel or when I wanted to watch some live classical instrumental music at sunset on river Ganga. I felt so empowered because all those experiences were solely mine, the intensity of those emotions are inexplicable. I also got a chance to meet some wonderful travelers which would not have happened otherwise, because when you travel with others your interactions with the outside world are comparatively less. More than anything I was focused on everything around me which helped in feeling the true essence of Varanasi.
This trip made me understand who Anupama is as a person, what is her muse and what would keep her going in life. Isn’t that a question that we all constantly ask There was a sense of gratitude towards life and it’s power to surprise us in the most unexpected ways, through places, people, experiences and the connections we develop.
I definitely found myself in Varanasi and left as a pragmatic person who saw the true beauty of life.