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The thing about solo trips

They say don't ditch something till you've tried it. I took my first ever solo trip in 2018 to a quaint little village called Andretta, in Himachal Pradesh. All I'd heard of the place is that there's a pottery retreat, reason enough for me to pack my bags and board a train.

I don't think I'd ever been as excited about anything else. For as long as I can remember, I'd been accompanied by family, friends or colleagues for every trip that I took. Since I had a solo trip on my bucket list and the time was favourable, I decided to give it a go. To be honest, I was a bit nervous. Not because I was afraid to travel alone or didn't know what to expect when I reached there but maybe because of some kind of social conditioning that plants a seed of doubt in your head. People ask suspiciously, ''Why alone?'' To which I say, "You needn't have a pre-planned agenda. You can just go with the flow and improvise if an opportunity presents itself. You don't have to slow down or rush to accommodate someone else's checklist. You can catch up on reading, or more importantly, take time to pause and introspect."

Anyway, I'd made all the arrangements in advance, right down to booking a cab recommended by the homestay I'd chosen. Suresh ji picked me from the Pathankot station after an overnight journey. Around 3.5 hours later (via Palampur), I got off at The Mirage and was allotted a cosy little room by Denis, my host at the charming homestay. Over the next couple of days, I got familiar with the village bit by bit. All around are the Dhauladhar mountain ranges and unmarked trails going in all directions. You come across small mud houses, smiling faces working the fields or monkeys hiding in the trees. Brave a walk through a (snake infested) bamboo grove and a somewhat dry river bed, and you'll arrive at a natural pool plunging into a waterfall. There's a local temple, the pottery itself, a few artist studios and nothing else. Not even a roadside tea stall, I kid you not! I was delighted to know there existed a place where Maggi or Nescafe hadn't reached, and people were in no hurry to get past you on the road.

I visited Mary and Mini (as they're lovingly called by the townspeople) at their home and played a round of cards with them. Mini's father, Gurcharan Singh ji had founded the Delhi Blue Pottery Trust. Since his passing, the duo have been the real force behind keeping Andretta's legacy and indigenous style alive. The pottery is a production as well as teaching centre. Incidentally, I also met my future pottery teacher there. I truly wasn't expecting to feel so much at home or to find myself in such warm company. I had expected a tranquil vacation to get away from it all. But life and people can bring pleasant surprises.

I visited Atelier Lal Mitti, another exceptional studio that also takes on students regularly. Once, I hitched a ride with Denis to Bir, the hub for paragliding, and ended up visiting a beautiful monastery and the Deer Park Institute while he did some errands. Another day, someone pointed me in the direction of Baijnath temple and the Sobha Singh gallery en route. But the most memorable experience was getting my hands on wet clay and just having fun with it. There was no fixed time slot and as a matter of fact, I just lost the sense of time. In the afternoon, I'd walk across the road to fresh home-style food, along with another bunch attending the Ira Trivedi yoga retreat. Most evenings, I'd just take a long walk with Sweetie, the adventurous resident dog, who'd steal live chicken for dinner.

It was the beginning of monsoon and the place was spectacularly green, with all kinds of trees laden with fruit. But I was told to come back in November if I wanted a view of the snow-capped mountains in all their splendour. One can never get enough of nature. So, post-pandemic, I wish to keep that promise.

Perhaps, the real takeaway I got from this trip was that we're always playing a role–that of a wife, mother, daughter, sister or friend. So, I really cherished that I got to get back in touch with myself. I got to choose what I felt like in the moment. I did miss my family and told them about my day but I also knew that we'd probably not have come to a consensus on this place if we'd voted for a holiday destination together. I wouldn't even have known what I'd missed out on. Travel makes us all richer for the experience, so if you're curious about a rural getaway but it's not anybody else's cup of tea, don't stop yourself. There are some gems tucked away in our beautiful country, where you'll find honest, humble and hospitable people. All you have to do is be open to an adventure by yourself.

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