Sometimes all you need is some time off discovering a beautiful place, with no one but yourself for company—to just lay low and figure things out. Fellow lifestyle writer, passionate photographer (which is evident once you go through some of these stunning clicks!) and avid traveller, Neehar Mishra along with our in-house backpack traveller and Executive Editor, Nirati Agarwal revel in the joys of exploring different places, learning about different people and cultures. Having being stung by the very same wanderlust bug, we had a quick chat with the pair of vagabonds to source out their favourite spots. What we discovered was one of the most riveting travel journals. Read on to find out for yourself.
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For me, a good travel destination is one that is friendly and welcoming, while also being non-intrusive. Of the recent places I’ve travelled to, Hampi and South Goa are my favourites. I have found that my travels to Karnataka are very fulfilling, offering a healthy dose of natural beauty, peace and quiet, as well as lots of exciting experiences” says Neehar.

Pictured here is Neehar Mishra in Hampi.

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“I also love visiting the mountains in Himachal. My favourite mountain destination is Sangla, which is near the India-Tibet border,” says Neehar.

Pictured here are the Himachal Mountains.

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For Nirati, Goa, Jaipur, Dharamsala and Hampi have been some of the favourite destinations within the country. “They are friendly, safe for women and have wonderful local sights that justify travel. I also, of course, love the selection of cuisines that these places offer,”says Nirati.

Pictured here: McLeod—a suburb of Dharamshala

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When we asked Neehar her thoughts on travelling alone, she says, “Based on my experiences, I feel that travelling alone in India comes with its fair share of challenges. It can be an extremely safe and a truly spectacular experience as long as one is cautious. Women travelling alone is a concept that Indian’s are just getting used to, which is why women attract a lot of attention from locals.”

Pictured here: Varanasi

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Nirati too has travelled alone, albeit with a slightly different approach, and had some thoughts on the subject. “With the right kind of attitude, awareness of your surroundings and research, it is pretty easy to keep yourself safe if you are a female traveller journeying alone. I make sure I have a can of pepper spray within easy reach in my bag, along with a water bottle, a granola bar, as well as a cell phone with a good network when I am travelling by myself. Good local contacts through friends and Facebook are also a must. I usually travel to write stories, do interviews and meet local people through prior appointments, keeping around two days time for discovery while I am at any new place. The first few days are spent with locals who provide good information on where to go and what to see, with travel blogs also providing usable information. Armed with all this, I create an itinerary for the days I have no appointments, to really take in any place I visit,” she says.

Pictured here is Nirati Agarwal at a monastery in McLeod Ganj.

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On the challenges of travelling alone, Neehar tells us, “As cynical as it may sound, the trick is to be a little thick-skinned and focus on your travels solely instead of bothering about other people staring. Dressing sensibly and with respect for where you are, refraining from being overtly friendly, and not venturing out alone too late at night are some ways you can ensure your safety. Identifying a suitable accommodation and mode of travel in advance is a given.”

Pictured here: Neehar standing in front of a waterfall in Chikmaglur

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That being said, don’t be too cautious to the point of restricting yourself. The beautiful thing about India is that here there are all kinds of people. From personal experience I can say that for every one person who unnerves you, there will be five others willing to go out of their way to help you! Just trust your instincts and you will find that interacting with locals can make your trip a lot more exciting and enriching,” adds Neehar.

Pictured here: Locals in rural India.

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“Travelling alone can be your biggest ego boost. Before my first solo trip, to Gokarna, I was questioning my decision to travel alone till the very minute that I boarded the bus. A number of things cross your mind: What if something unpleasant happens? What if you get bored? The best thing you can do is trust yourself. Travelling alone is the best way to face your fears and insecurities. It gives you the opportunity to push yourself beyond your limits of comfort, boost your self-confidence and makes you discover your fun and adventurous side!”smiles Neehar.

Pictured here: Gokarna

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“Travelling alone is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is about discovering a place. It made me realise that I have fairly good handle on how to interact with different kinds of people, that I am completely capable of taking care of myself and that I do not necessarily need company to have fun and be adventurous. Most importantly, it strengthened my faith in myself and my instincts,” says Neehar.

Pictured here: Neehar amidst the snow in beautiful and picturesque Gulmarg

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Nirati’s response to the challenges faced while travelling solo: “I have travelled by train and even by buses, which taught me a lot about expectations and reality. All you really need to focus on is being prepared. A lot of things happen when you are on the road, and it just requires tweaking your expectations to deal with them!”

Pictured here: Nirati in a rickshaw in Delhi 

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“I have come to learn that I am tougher than I think! That may sound odd, but when I am travelling, I like to try new things whether it is talking to strangers, trying local fare, going bungee jumping or taking a walk at dawn, the purpose of travel is to do the new,” says Nirati.

Pictured here: Nirati sipping a coconut drink in Bangkok.

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We asked the travellers what emotions they associate with their favourite places. “Every place in India has its own character and flavour, its own state of mind. For instance, the colourful chaos of the by-lanes of Varanasi is much akin to emotions we feel in our daily routine; while simply trying to get through a hectic day, you come across sights and sounds that instantly elevate your mood, basking in the sun on the quiet, secluded beaches of South Goa while staring at the infinite sea is a highly therapeutic and great opportunity for self-introspection,” says Neehar.

Pictured here: Agoda Beach, South Goa.

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Nirati on the other hand says, “When it comes to associations, I think Jaipur will always mean royaltyto me —a connect with our rich heritage—with a deep sense of nostalgia since I trace my ancestry to Rajasthan. Goa translates to beach fun (obviously!) and Hampi will always mean independence to me. Hampi has a certain hippie vibe along with all those historical ruins that somehow makes me associate it with a feeling of being free!”

Pictured here: A view from Hampi

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We asked the experts to share with us the one thing they always do when touching upon new land. Neehar said, “I usually ask the shopkeepers near the bus or train station what the best mode of transport is to get around and how much it would cost me, to avoid being overcharged by rickshaw-wallas.” Great tips to for an economic and sensible travel? “The best way to travel is to go with an open mind and not much planning. Leave behind all your inhibitions, presumptions and hang-ups and just go with the flow,” she continues.

Pictured here: Rickshaws stuck in traffic.

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Nirati’s top travel tips on the other hand are short and simple: “Wake up and see the sunrise! Try the local cuisine! No amount of research can answer questions about culture. The best way to begin to understand something as amorphous as culture is to talk to the locals, and if possible, share a home-cooked meal with them in their house. Everything—from the ambience of their house, the conversation with members of their family, their relationships with each other, the food itself and the way it is served becomes an insight into their culture.”

Pictured here: Nirati enjoys the delicious Potato Momos with spicy chutney at McLeodGanj

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On picking her ideal travel buddy Neehar says: “Someone who is a free spirit, does not bother much about luxury and comfort, and does not insist on doing everything together.”

Pictured here: Neehar strikes a pretty picture in Shimla.

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What Nirati looks for in a travel buddy on the other hand is, “Someone who is willing to adapt, try new things, wake up early in the morning, doesn’t get annoyed with the list of places I prepare as the must-visits (OCD, I know!) and has good instincts makes for the ideal travelling partner.”

Pictured here: Nirati playing the typical tourist in Agra.