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Travelling Solo and Without Money, to the Northeast by Mahima Nanda

Remember the last time you found yourself at an airport? Imagine yourself finding your way through a railway station’s busy footfalls, sweaty and tired and worried about the debt you’re racking up by spending thousands of rupees to go to yet another dream getaway. And while you’re at it, occasionally your eyes catch a glimpse of someone like Mahima Nanda. This female solo traveller, who is also an Arts student from JNU at New Delhi, is one of those incredibly put-together people who never seem fazed by train delays, flight cancellations or other hassles that inevitably come with travel. And there’s a reason she looks so sanguine: her latest trip to the beautiful Kashmir and Ladakh has cost her ZERO rupees.

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Photo | Mahima Nanda by Light Flicks

Mahima Nanda is in her second year towards pursuing a BA (Hons) in French degree from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was born in Guwahati but spent most of her childhood in Dehradun, New Delhi, and Mumbai.

Mahima is an ardent nature lover and likes to spend time walking or biking in the woods. She also loves to read and write, make new friends, and get motivated by knowing their stories. Online, Nanda is known as the owner ‘Her Blue World’, a Facebook page dedicated to encourage readers to take up travelling without the hassles of monetary constraints. Here Mahima shares tips to score free or nearly free trips while staying safe and respectful to others.

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Mahima at a camping site

  • How and when did you get started on your unique travelling journeys?

I went on my first solo trip in 2007. I have been exploring various places in India since then. Sometimes when a place catches my fancy, I go to a place more than once or many times in the same year. In fact, I’ve never hesitated to travel as and when any opportunity comes.”

I have explored Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Mumbai and much more. The journeys  also involved some very interesting pit stops included regions where I’d spent a night or more. They are:
-Gaumukh,
-Maharashtra (Wai, Kenjur, Dandegarh, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Nasik, Pune),
-Kanyakumari,
-Kerala (Kottayam, Kazakottam),
-Karnataka (Kodaikanal, Bangalore),
-Arunachal Pradesh(Ziro),
-Uttar Pradesh (Govardhan, Firozabad, Lucknow, Allahabad, Varanasi),
-Jammu and Kashmir ( Magam, Srinagar, Drass, Kargil, Panikhar, Zanskar, Hunder, Tyakshi, Dah- Hanu, Leh)

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  • Who or what inspired you to begin traveling alone?

My decision to go for a solo journey was to get emancipated from my not-so-fantastic normal life. I really wanted to do something that would give life to my life. Fortunately, I came across the Facebook group that inspired me to leave my safe environs and go out to explore any place I wanted to without a single penny.

  • Sounds like a lot of fun, but surely there were challenges?

Well, where there’s a will there’s a way. Finding a commute while travelling without money is challenging but it isn’t impossible. I managed to commute by hitchhiking on any vehicle I could pursuade to climb into. That includes truck, bike, scooter, a Honda Activa, train, loaders, carriers, bus, and even a horse! I ate food served at temples, asked for leftover food from random shops and families and plucked fruits from trees. I slept in dharamshalas, railways station waiting rooms and platforms, on the road with homeless people, asked for night stays in random homes, also sometimes the drivers would offer shelter in their respective homes.

“Honestly, the only challenge I faced was not being able to share my happiness. I was alone and everything was happening pretty easily. No hassles at all! But I was the only one who was experiencing these beautiful moments. After a few months, I started realising the need for friends in one’s life. This reminds me of a quote from the movie ‘Into the Wild’ – ‘Happiness is only real, when shared”

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Mahima hanging out with the locals.

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Mahima | Ziro Music Festival

  • You were recently a part of the famous Ziro Music Festival. Tell us about your experience there.

The idea to go to ZFM came to me from another traveller. I decided I should definitely make it to the Northeast, but I was in Kerala then. This was going to be a long journey. I was petrified but excited at the same time.

After sending a mail to the festival’s organiser (Bobby Hanoo) offering to host a solo free hug campaign, I began planning for the trip. I managed to reach there after travelling for three days from Bangalore to Guwahati in the general coach of a train and then hitchhiked till Naharlagun and then to Ziro.

Ziro is a beautiful valley. The mornings and evenings are so chilly, unlike the scorching hot noons. The locals speak fluent Hindi which came as a big surprise to me. They are so refreshingly kind and friendly. Ziro gave me so many friends and families that I can proudly call this place my home. The spiceless but rich local food including the fermented pork, lentils, cabbage, squash and rice made me its biggest fan.

The locals say there is nobody in Ziro who doesn’t know how to farm in the fields.. I wanted to try my hands at it too so I got a chance to work with in the fields for a day. The locals revere rice in the same way that the rest of us worship gold. So it was an honour to farm a rice field among such reverence. All of that and the concert, late night jam sessions, meeting various artists from all over India, hugging so many unknown people, sharing and inspiring so many women and men, discovering the life of locals by living in their homes completed my journey eventually.

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Mahima with Grunge-Punk Delhi based rock band ‘The Pilgrim’.

  • What have do you have to tell other travellers who want to follow your footsteps?

In my opinion, every woman is born brave and courageous. The patriarchal society, however, helps us subside this belief and instead nurtures the weak body we carry and tells us how we should take care of it otherwise we’d get vandalised by men.

Instead, advise every woman to let go of that fear of criticism. Pay no heed to what people, or society, or men, or relatives and friends, or boyfriends will say. The only weapon you need to carry while solo travelling is optimism and faith. Of course, sharpen your instincts. They are very powerful and help you hone an X- ray vision to scan a person’s soul within seconds. Remember to stay calm, no matter what happens. The solo travelling journey is a lonely one but full of adventures and miracles.

Mahima strolling in the paddy fields.

Shweta Rao

Shweta Rao

Tech Journalist. Enterprise Tech Enthusiast. Digs Indie music. Shweta also helps out as a copy editor for R&L.
Shweta Rao