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WOMAN SOLO TRAVEL : Journeys of Challenges & Beautiful Stories

The given narrative is based on an email interview with Shanti Rai, a solo traveler, who has toured some of the most remote areas in Nepal.

Coordinated by: Pabita Dahal

Have you ever thought of leaving behind the privileges of city life? Have you ever celebrated Dashain or your birthday in a remote place alone? Have you ever encountered death? And, have you ever found home in the wilderness?

I have had the privilege to gain all of these experiences through my solo travel across remote areas of Nepal; my journey started from September 19 and ended on December 16, 2018. It was not easy as I was travelling alone on foot. But I am grateful for the chance to learn about so many amazing places and cultures of our country.  Here, I am sharing a few that remain closest to my heart:

Gokyo Valley:

The most fascinating part of this region is the panoramic view of the great mountains such as Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu and the unclimbed Mt. KyojoRi from a height of 5357 meters. Below one can see the largest Ngozumpa glacier and the small hamlet of few hotels called Gokyo valley; this is one of the highest settlements in the world.

It was not easy as I was travelling alone on foot. But I am grateful for the chance to learn about so many amazing places and cultures of our country.

Bardiya National Park:

I experienced wildlife safari, heartening sunrise and the sunsets and Tharu homestay. This is where I celebrated Dashain with my Tharu host family. The most thrilling moment was spending nights in a tree house in a jungle. Sometimes elephants would shake our tree house in middle of the night.  Although outsiders are not allowed to stay in the tree house, I fulfilled my dream by building a good rapport with the denizens.

Khaptad Valley:  

Though it was an off-season, I got experienced the other side of Khatpad Valley. I encountered my first snowfall, met the denizens of the far west, and got to learn about the journey of Khaptad Baba. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage and indulge in deep meditation.

Rara Lake:  

I always feel at peace when I recall the clean and fresh waters of the circular lake surrounded by forests and mountains with colorful tents pitched on the beach. Most importantly, I celebrated my 27th birthday in this beautiful place.

Shey Phoksundo and Ringo Valley: 

I climbed one of the most difficult cliffs but as soon as I saw the waterfall and blue Shey Phoksundo, all my pain was gone. I learnt about Bonpo religion followed by the people of Dolpo. It was interesting to observe the lifestyle of the community. Luckily, I also got the chance to attain Mati Festival which is annually celebrated for four days. I spent most of my days volunteering in Trapriza School; the children tried their best to teach me Tibetan and I tried my best to teach them English.

Upper Mustang:  

I walked up to Lo Manthang and Tibet border. Hundreds of mysterious caves make this city. Beautiful historical palaces, old monasteries, deserted colourful hills, mountains in the south, goat farming and the Tibetan lifestyle are the main attractions of this place.

Accommodation, expenditure and safety

I was able to accomplish this with the help from Solo Travel Nepal, a community which inspires and supports individuals who are keen to travel and explore new places. They sponsored my trip and also gave me the required training. Although, I selected the destinations, I was able to manage and plan my accommodation and do a risk analysis through the guidance of Solo Travel Nepal. I was trained for the wilderness and to fight back and learnt first aid. I had my health insurance and the contracts of local police station, health post etc.

Challenges

I had the worst altitude sickness while crossing Renjola Pass (6400-6600m.). I was continuously vomiting and fainted time and again. At one point I completely passed out but luckily a few guides came and woke me up. They helped me to the hotel and gave me food to recover.

Also, being the only woman surrounded by men can be awkward at times. During the journey, I was offered a lift by seven men. After driving for a few minutes, the man sitting next to me started to harass me sexually. I was nervous, furious and helpless as I could not immediately take action. I tried to politely convince him that I was not comfortable. The other men understood my situation and called me to sit beside them. I felt a really relieved.  Further I had to adjust in a small room with 18 people including men. I would keep my eyes open all night, holding the pepper spray and chanting my rosary at night.

You will meet new people who will teach you lifelong lessons, inspire you and amaze you

December is off-season to travel to the Himalayas.  Most hotels are closed and I faced problems finding accommodation. One day I even survived eating a Snicker bar and another day, I just had Bhuteko Makai. It made me realise that it’s important to carry extra food.

Maintaining personal hygiene is another challenge, especially during menstruation. I was in the region where menstruation is considered to be impurity and the practice of Chaupadi still prevails. So, I had to keep it a secret. Keeping myself clean all the time was a challenge and also the cramps due to lack of proper food did not make the situation better.

Travel tips

Travelling to any destination whether solo or in a group, whether it’s short or long distance, one needs to always have an open mindset and heart to accept new things. You will meet new people who will teach you lifelong lessons, inspire you and amaze you. Being confident, having a detailed study of the destination will definitely help you. You should do a detailed study about the route, community, culture and people if you want to make your trip memorable. Certain things such as map reading, backpacking, choosing outfits and gears, first aid kits, understanding your body type, etc. make you a smart traveler. Having emergency contact numbers is especially helpful. Keep track of nearby health post or hospital and police station is always necessary to stay safe or in case of an emergency.