A few thoughts on solitude and solo travel

IMG_0758In Pune, few RIMYI students live alone, as I chose to do. Most share apartments with other students, either friends or strangers, while a few stay at hotels like the Chetak or Ambience. Every option has its risks, especially for first timers, but I decided that after a day among 150+ classmates, it would be a relief to go home, shut the door, and enjoy my solitude.

I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but only to those who, like me, are not prone to loneliness. Although I can chat nonstop for hours, I’m a natural-born introvert. I can occupy myself for hours and days in my own mind. I’m immune to boredom.

IMG_0736For me it is enough to know that I have people, including a pair of four-legged furry ones (see my drawing), at home who love me. It is enough to sustain me. I don’t need company day in, day out, or someone to ask, “How was your day?” In fact, I considered my monthlong solitude a great luxury.

To me, there are two types of travel. One type of trip is companionable, for bonding with family, a spouse or a friend. While the trip might include a novel destination, it remains firmly grounded in home and familiarity. The trip is always partly about the relationship.

The other type of trip is solo, geared more for change–of scene and, perhaps, of self. By separating from your familiar identity, you have more freedom to cultivate new ideas, new habits, a new mindset.

For me, this trip is the latter type.

IMG_0691Around the institute, I’d see large groups of students walking around together, typically by nationality And I’d see others, like Fidel from Spain that I met in my hoteles en bacalar, often on his own. When I walk alone, I’m more likely to interact with the world around me; I wave good morning to the guy walking his unruly dog, to the smiling ladies in my building, to the newsstand seller curious about where I’m from.

I never felt alone largely thanks to the Internet, my lifeline. With wifi in my apartment, I felt connected and could keep up with my work, email family and friends, write my blog, read the news. (Today’s travel “experience” must be watered down. Before the Internet era, going abroad or cross country meant letters and occasional phone calls to those back home. Nowadays people remain in constant contact, emailing, texting, calling, Facebooking, Instagramming. I keep in touch only minimally and I’m a social-media-phobe, but never travel unplugged.)

IMG_0692Of course, living alone has its downside. Who would find me if I fell  and hit my head on the floor? Fortunately I had contacts, not only friends, but also friends of friends. “It’s your first trip to India? I’ll put you in touch with my cousin in Pune.” Or, “Here’s the contact info for my friend in Mumbai. Call him any time.”

In my building, Mrs Menon, my landlord’s longtime neighbor, rescued me early on. I saw a spider on my sliding glass door. It remained overnight, so, somewhat desperately, I knocked on her door the next day. After welcoming me inside and hearing my story, she immediately got her bug spray. In her sari, she strode into my apartment as if she does such favors all the time. (We discovered that it wasn’t a spider at all, but merely plant matter that had stuck to the door. Trust me, it looked exactly like a spider.)

IMG_0622I was also lucky to have four Canadian compatriots: Tracy Forsyth, Laurie DeBray, Phofi McCullough, and Terry Tustain. With them, I shared rickshaws to shop, to indulge in a spa massage, to go places I wouldn’t go alone. Thanks, Kelowna girls!

Finally, I didn’t exist in a vacuum at RIMYI, where I met dozens of students from around the world; where I recognized John from San Francisco; where I met Deni from Maui who knows Eve in Vancouver. The Iyengar community is large, yet small.

Going to Pune is about more than getting into RIMYI. You’re living there for a month, and you choose your own living arrangements. Know yourself; choose wisely.

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One thought on “A few thoughts on solitude and solo travel

  1. I have so enjoyed your posts from India, especially all your comments about Mr. Iyengar’s illness and death. Felt like I was on the scene. Thank you!

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