“When it comes to travel, I don’t think you should be too passionate about it. You should just travel. That just makes sense, right?”
Born in the town of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, Nayna Agrawal (@naynaagrawal) didn’t care who she was going with, but only where she’s going, and when. It was an escape, a sense of liberation, and her mojo. And what’s more, unlike what most of us may think, it’s not all that expensive! She believes all that’s needed is a will to go, and go she did!
Most of us have had to struggle to convince our families about going on a trip, and for women, it’s even more so! Nayna’s family wasn’t much different. But all that’s needed is a will to go, she says.
“Yes, initially they were anxious, and they still are, but over the years, their reactions have changed. Now my family is like, ‘She can go anywhere and is tough enough to manage on her own,’ and also since I don’t ask too much money from them, it also helps! After all, they’re happy to see that I’m happiest when I’m traveling. But being parents, they try to persuade me to not go to far-off places, but by now they know that even if they refuse, I’ll still go.”
This sheer force of will has pushed Nayna to many, many places across India, and a lot of travel stories to share as well!
But let’s face it, all of us have made many travel plans, and more often than not, most of them fail (Looking at you with tears in our eyes, Goa trip!). Sometimes you just don’t get days off because your boss is an ass, you have an exam that you won’t prepare for until the last moment but will still cancel, or you’re simply stonewalled by your family. We’ve all been there, right? Not Nayna, not anymore. Because if she’s going, she’s going!
“I wasn’t getting anyone to travel with, because everyone had all sorts of reasons to not make it. After a while I was just fed up and decided, f*** it, I’m going on my own. No one in my group had ever gone solo tripping yet, so I decided to bite the bullet and let them know how it is.
The trip was from Indore to Manali, but I ended up being late and reached Kullu at 3 am. I got in a bus to Manali and it was packed with Himachali tribes. It was my first-ever solo trip and being the only non-native solo female traveler did make me anxious. Also, it didn’t help that the people were staring at me with expressions that plainly said ‘Who has come upon our territory?’
After an hour’s uncomfortable ride, I reached Manali and tried calling up every hostel, and decided to get in the first one. Luckily Nomad’s Den was open and they welcomed me! Being in a dormitory for the first time was also intimidating. There were many foreigners and also some dogs in the room, and I used to be very scared of dogs then.
But by morning, I was friends with the guests. They were in Manali for a few days and knew the area quite well, but didn’t know Hindi. I, on the other hand, can speak Hindi but didn’t know the area. So it was a perfect symbiosis of sorts! I helped them bargain at shops and translate while they showed me around and we also went on a 16-km trek. It’s hard not to become friends after this, and this good first experience cemented my love for hostels too!”
Budgeting Her Adventures
Traveling on a shoestring budget is Nayna’s forte, and this is a skill she honed not only out of choice but also a necessity. But this is what got her to stay in places like Manali, Naggar, and also the frigid Ladakh for extended periods of time, more than any mainstream traveler would do. Imagine living in the place of your dreams and not worrying much about expenses. That is what Nayna achieved!
“Expenses are obviously the primary concern when you’re traveling,” continues Nayna, “but what I managed to do is strike a deal with the hostels I stayed in. It goes like this: you give me free lodging and food, and I’ll work for you, and in 5-6 places, it worked out! They need a person who can maintain the register. Usually, hostels have 3-4 rooms, and if I offer to sweep the place, they’ll let me stay the night. I’ve never been too open to my family about this aspect of my travel, as they might be hurt and didn’t want to impose upon them to manage funds, so I had to find a way out to sustain myself.”
Budgeting wasn’t exactly easy for Nayna and given her urge to always visit new places meant that she saved up as much as she could. A secret bank account was where she saved all her money!
Oh, did we say secret? Well, not anymore! Nayna’s mom discovered her secret bank debit card, but instead of being mad, gave her another 10K. We give you no points for guessing where this money went!
Life In The Land Of High Passes
One of Nayna’s major travels, or rather, stays is in Ladakh. We don’t need to tell you about how harsh and unforgiving the place is. But to quote (or rather, misquote) Theon Greyjoy from Game Of Thrones, “Hard places create kind people, and kind people change the world.” It made a world of difference for Nayna when she stayed in Ladakh for over six months, thanks to the people whose kindness and warmth made the biting cold easier to bear.
“I managed to get to stay in a hostel in Leh. Living there, or any mountains for that matter, isn’t all lovely. Sure, the views are great, but for someone like me who’s from Madhya Pradesh, the weather is just biting cold. And we also have to deal with dry skin and have to acclimatize to the place as well. But again, it gets easier in a while, you just have to stay put.
Despite how harsh Ladakh is, my stay there got easier thanks to the people. Ladakhis are great, and when I say great, I totally mean it. Just walk up to someone’s house and they’ll invite you inside and serve you food and also offer you a place to crash for the night. As a rule, I feel India is unsafe for solo female travelers, but Ladakh is a welcome exception. I’ve felt very safe with them and there’s no words to describe their hospitality.They did my bed, organized my luggage, washed my cycle, and ensured that I left their house with enough food to carry to my hostel. When you’re in Ladakh, make sure to try out the Siddu whenever you’re in Ladakh – steamed buns filled with walnut chutney. Just delicious!”
Like Maggu, the dog in Ladakh who befriended and followed Nayna wherever she went, something else followed her too – albeit far from a very good boy. It was expenses, again! Ever resourceful, Nayna did manage to do her bit here too!
“If you’re creative and willing to work, you can eke out a frugal but fulfilling life in Ladakh. I’ve managed to get through a month with a mere 500-1000 rupees! You could buy some food and cook in the hostels, but that wasn’t even a huge necessity thanks to the Ladakhis’ warmth! But yes, sanitary napkins would cost about 250 bucks, and that made me quite sad but well, that’s just unavoidable.”
Traversing The Zanskar Valley
Ever since Nayna went on her first trek in Indore in 2016, life was never the same for her. Trekking simply became part of her life. But how is it in Ladakh? She has an interesting way of looking at it:
“For most places, you’ve to go to a specific place for trekking. But if you’re living in Ladakh or a McLeodganj, the entire place is a trek in itself! Just go for a 10-km walk, and you’ll be passing through forests, rugged terrain, and come across animals. So you can’t easily distinguish between trekking and walking!”
Even with the rough terrain Ladakh mostly has, the Chadar Trek has gained notoriety for being among the toughest in India. Did Nayna pass up on the opportunity to trek there? No!
“The Chadar Trek experience was insane!” Nayna reminisces. “It could go as low as -30°C, and the river would just be frozen! As the weather is extreme there, you’re required by the government to stay there for two days to get acclimatized. If you do, you can proceed with the trek. I managed it, and even set out for the 76-km trek solo for 11-12 days, without joining a travel agency!”
Renting a trekking stick, boots, gloves, and a jacket, off she went exploring the Zanskar!
“You know how it’s considered a norm to bathe in Ganga, there’s something of a similar norm when going on the Chadar Trek. Only that the river will freeze you to the bone, and I still had to do it! I stayed in the water for 10 seconds, and after that, it was simply unbearable and jumped out!”
Treks do come with their own share of risks, and Nayna wasn’t exactly spared from it either. She had to battle poor weather, and as you know, the smart thing to do then is to just wait it out. So she had to wait under a canopy of snow. This begs the question – was she scared? It was her first Chadar Trek experience, after all!
“No, I wasn’t scared of getting stuck. Even though I was solo trekking, there were others going the same way. So we stuck together, and we became friends! But yes, there was one thing that I was actually dreading. I was really scared of losing my mobile network and then discovering that I have 20 missed calls from my mom. Let me tell you, that s*** is scary AF!”
We completely agree, Nayna. We completely agree.
Nayna’s Travel Hacks!
Safety – Number One Priority
“No matter where you go, you must always trust your instincts. It may sound cliche, but it’s really important. If you feel some place is not safe, just don’t go yaar. It’s okay if you didn’t get to see everything. You can also send your location to your friends/family, and if you’re in a bus or a train, send its route and number to your loved ones. In case something untoward happens, your family can try and get you out of trouble.”
Vocal For Local!
“It’s best to connect with a local person to get to know the place best and also someone who has visited the place, so that you get both a local’s and an outsider’s perspective.”
“When I say little luggage, I mean reeeaaallly little luggage, no matter your budget. You’ll be able to trek and move about effortlessly. If you can afford it, buy collapsible stuff, as they’ll take much less space.”
“I swear by it, and if you don’t carry one, you’ll be in a tough spot. If there was only one thing that I could carry for a 10-day trip, it’ll be my sunscreen!”
The Internet Is A Lie! (Well, At Least Some Of It)
“Don’t just rely on pictures on the Internet. They’re taken at the best possible moment, and the ones you see online are chosen amongst hundreds of possibilities. Really, don’t just trust them. You may be in for a huge disappointment.”
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Solo Travel Through Nayna's PerspectiveNayna's Trip To Ladakh And More