Backpacking diaries: 120 days, 47 places, 2 girls & no pepper spray
Travel doesn’t need expert guides and big budgets – at least according to our two spunky protagonists here. Meet Amla Pisharody (22) from Pune. Graduating with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Xavier’s Mumbai last year, she remained clueless on what to do next. The usual conflict between applying for a Masters versus taking up a job seemed to end when Amala forayed into an unplanned drop year.
That’s when she bumped into Kamayani Chauhan (21), an English Honors graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, and her travel plans. The duo began building castles in the air about travelling for as long as a year. The initial excitement was burnt out by several factors — security concerns, funding, parents’ permission, stay, food, the list of apprehensions went on. But after several attempts at convincing their parents, all the while nursing their own reservations, Amla and Kamayani were finally able to whittle down their travel plans to a four-month trip within the country, with a carefully drawn out map.
Being army brats, travel was not new. But a four-month expedition with as savings as low as `30,000 was a first for both of them. It started off with Amla reaching Delhi from Pune on November 8 last year to meet Kamayani and off they backpacked to Himachal Pradesh, the first state out of the seven on their list. It was the same period when demonetisation hit the country. “Both of us had in total around `15,000 in `500 notes. At that time, we were near Reckong Peo in Kinnaur, and went to a bank in a village called Chini Gaon to exchange money,” recalls Amla. Asking relatives, acquaintances, standing in long ATM queues wherever possible, the pair managed to deal with demonetisation.
Living like nomads and figuring stuff on the go, the plan en route was simple — establish base camps wherever you go. “When we were doing Himachal Pradesh, we had a base at a friend’s house in Chandigarh, where we would keep most of our clothes. After 10 days of travel, we’d come back there, dump our stuff and take a new set of clothes before we set out to another state,” says Amla. In South India, where it was warmer, they washed and dried clothes on beaches. “We had gone as far as not doing laundry for 20 to 30 days sometimes. Of course we’d take a bath!” says Amla, chuckling.
The girls used Facebook to find out if anyone on their friends list lived there, and that’s how they found places to stay at zero cost. In case they had no one to host them, they reached the city to do groundwork and checked-in to the cheapest lodge or hostel. “If we did not stay for more than a day, we used the lockers in railway stations and bus stops to check-in the luggage,” reveals Amla.With the exception of when Kamayani was sick with fever and still battled a bus ride for 12 hours from Varanasi to Agra, and when Amla had diarrhoea when they were on a five-day break in Chandigarh — the two didn’t have any other serious health issues. “As women, our guard was always up,” says Amla, describing their mood for a major part of the journey. Amla specifically shares her experience from the Kheerganga trek, Kasol,“We got lost inside the forest, and took two hours to find our way. There was a group of men coming behind us and from the voices, I figured they were talking about us. And these men spoke to us saying “We were waiting for you, as you two are alone and we thought we could accompany you so that you feel safe.” While we were thinking — forest, rape, death. But over the next few hours, they interacted with us and we realised they were harmless and in fact trying to help.” However, in other places like Amritsar and on a bus ride to Hampi, they were leered at, stalked and approached by strange men.
Even after some of their toughest ordeals, like Kamayani losing her phone in Chennai, or the two of them going separate ways sightseeing in Hampi because of being tired of hanging out together, Amla feels that the two of them have come closer than ever before. Amla ends the conversation with a thought that makes one pause for a moment, “It is sad that people feel two women travelling alone is something of an inspiration and not a normal thing to do.”
Pack like a pro
• Switch your trolley for a backpack.
• Rolling up your clothes into bundles helps save space.
• Ditch those stilettos. Two pairs of comfortable hiking shoes will serve you well.
• A decent camera is the only expensive item you want to carry on a solo trip.
• Store money in multiple pockets of the bag, apart from your main wallet just in case.
• A journal with all the important phone numbers can save the day when you run out of charge.