Bags Packed. Phones Charged. Passport in the handbag. Off I trotted to the bus stop to catch the airport bus at around 10 in the night. As I showed my ID to the security at the airport entrance and walked towards the Indigo Baggage Check-In Counter, I could feel my heart racing. I just couldn’t stop smiling. Exitement was at its peak. Yay! Here I was, about to begin my first ever solo trip.
If you want to manoeuvre through Ahmedabad and explore the city, December is the time when the weather is hunky dory. Travelling around Gujarat does not fall heavy on your pocket. The people do not even try to cheat a solo woman traveller like me. Most of them help you out relentlessly. In case you stumble upon an auto without a meter, the autowala will ask you to pay the amount you would pay for the same distance through a meter.I would like to describe the people of Gujarat as honest, helpful and non-greedy.
River View and Gandhiji’s Room in Sabarmati Ashram
Inside the Bhadra Fort
Hutheesing Jain Temple
Manek Chowk Market
Gujarati Food in Ahmedabad
I was blessed to have been at the receiving end of people’s good will in this journey of mine. It feels like you are doted on even in an unknown city; when the local policewala who guides you to the buses and the places you want to visit; is also concerned about your well-being. There was this policewala who I came across. On our second meeting, he offered me some water. He also asked me if I was successful in visiting the places I had asked him about during the earlier part of the day.
The autowalas of Gujarat were also great narrators of history. One of the stories I got to hear from the autowala was the bit about how the Minaras from Jama Masjid were stolen by a magician and were parked near the Kalupur railway station when he was stopped by someone. While travelling solo you come across all kinds of people.For example, it is funny when someone is interested in your caste in the 21st century. I came across these two old men from UP in Bhadra Fort who were friendly and nice but were inquisitive about my caste. I was quite taken aback when they questioned me about it. For a moment I assumed that I had misunderstood their question. Unfortunately, I hadn’t!!
I never thought that the two days I spend in Kutch would turn out to be some of the most memorable days of my life. Thanks to all the wonderful people for crossing my paths. I had accidentally come across Arathi and Nivedita on the internet who were kind enough to accommodate me in their tent at Rann Utsav, Dhordo Tent City. They were this kind of people with whom I could brew up a conversation right away. The feeling was no different from the one I get when I am with my “pack(my friends)”. The three of us had a gala time at the Rann of Kutch. Time just flies when you have company for shopping, laughing, chatting and camel riding to the glorious white sand desert. The sunset I witnessed at Rann unequivocally added on to my list of most aesthetic sunsets ever.
Basking under the sunlight at Rann of Kutch with Arathi and Niveditha
I really believe that Mr Aniruddha Banerji and Mrs Jayanthi Banerji getting the Rann Utsav booking just two days in prior was fate. The same fate introduced me to them when aunty sat beside me on the bus to tent city from Bhuj Railway Station. Coincidentally, Arathi Nivedita and I shared the camel cart with them on the way to Rann of Kutch in the evening.
After checking out from the tent city, I bid goodbye to Arathi and Nivedita who were heading in a different direction. I proceeded to go on the Rann Utsav Bus which was supposed to take us to a couple of places for a short sightseeing tour. I wasn’t sure about how I was going to spend my afternoon and evening in Bhuj after the sightseeing tour was over. That was when the friendly Banerji couple stepped in and asked me to join them to Mandvi, the coastal city of Gujarat. Though I was tempted, I initially declined the offer as I had a train to catch to Ahmedabad from Bhuj at night. But the Rann Utsav guide Govind suggested to hire an autoickshaw to Mandvi and return to Bhuj in the same autorickshaw. Uncle and Aunty had decided to stay back at Mandvi that night. I went along with this plan as Govind vouched for the rickshaw driver who was charging only a meagre amount for this round trip without any banter. I kept hearing one thing from Govind and the other people of Gujarat “Don’t worry! Gujarat is a safe place for women! Even one in a million will not harm a girl at any time of the day.” Govind offered his phone number to contact him incase of any impediments. He also took the responsibility of taking care of my luggage while I was gone to Mandvi.
The Aina Mahal was radiant with light emitting from every nook and corner of the building filled with mirrors. We decided to skip lunch and visit Praag Mahal after exploring Aina Mahal, in order to head out to Mandvi soon. The Banerji couple insisted on leaving early so that I could return to Bhuj before it got dark. Their concern about my safety moved me. The Praag Mahal in Bhuj left me mesmerised. The landscape view of the Bhuj city from the top of Praag was worth skipping lunch.
We had some yummy ripe Guavas and Bananas for lunch en route Mandvi. I really enjoyed spending time with this amazing couple. They told me about how they loved travelling and always made impulsive travel plans. Listening to them inspired me to set some major travel goals for myself. They were this fabulous company any solo traveller would yearn for in his/her journey. I loved how they clicked my pictures with so much interest in all the places without any fuss. Being with them made me feel like I was with family. The effort they took to make sure I reached Bhuj safely was no less than what my own parents would have done for me. Only after we visited the Mandvi Palace and the beach did they check-in to a Hotel near the beach. They did not even look for any other hotels around so that I could get on with my journey back to Bhuj as soon as possible. Aunty made sure the rickshaw was closed from all sides to avoid the public from noticing that a girl was travelling alone. Uncle took my parents’ number and clicked the picture of the rickshaw and the driver as a precautionary measure. The driver was also told to inform the couple once I reached Bhuj.
Mandvi Palace with the Banerji couple
Sunset at Mandvi Beach
The couple did not have to invite me to Mandvi by taking so much trouble. Yet they did it. I was a stranger to them. But that didn’t stop them from going out of their way to accommodate me in that journey of theirs. They even bore the responsibility of my safety on their shoulders. While I travelled in the rickshaw back to Bhuj, I received a call from Govind enquiring about my safety. Jayanti Aunty also rang me up to find out if I was ok. As I got off the call I was overwhelmed with emotions. Now I was being flooded with queries of my well being by a number of people in an unknown city where I did not know a single soul just a day ago. The driver dropped me at the railway station safely. I felt numb with happiness and excitement from the day. The Banerji couple, Govind, the rickshaw driver and the people of Gujarat in general reaffirmed my faith in humanity. I realised that the world was a much better place than what I had thought. I can’t thank them enough and will remain indebted to their goodness. Always!
I had one bad day in this entire journey. I fell sick on the day I returned to Ahmedabad from Kutch and could do nothing but sleep in the Hotel. Skipping lunch and roaming around under the scorching sun in Kutch did have their impact on me. I still managed to do some shopping in the law garden area in the evening. Gujarat was not going to happen again in my near future. So I gathered myself up in spite of being sick to do some shopping. I tried making up on my last day in Ahmedabad by covering Adalaj Stepwell, Sarkhej Roza and Jhulta Minara that I had missed the previous day owing to my sickness. My weakness from the previous day compelled me to star-cross the Baroda visit which I had planned for the last day. I missed meeting Kruti (my dad’s colleague) who had helped me a lot in planning my schedule in Ahmedabad.
When I left Gujarat I made a promise to return as I still had so many places to see in the state which I had not covered in my 5-day trip. I got to experience so many things during this journey. I travelled alone, struck up conversations with autowalas, co-passengers in buses and became friends with fellow travellers who reminded me of my buddies and family back home. I am sure I wouldn’t have done any of this if I wasn’t alone. Also when you travel solo your perception of things tends to be very different. One is free to choose and do things at his/her own will. Memories of my first ever solo trip will always remain special and will be cherished forever. I hope I never loose the spirit of travelling, especially in a world as winsome as ours!