When I started my journey, one of my biggest challenge was to overcome the difficulty to trust strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers” has it’s own local and regional flavours in our families and like most of us, I have grown conditioned on it. In new places, I have been warned of people who will put me in harms way and therefore to not drink water, to no eat anything a stranger would offer. The warnings are endless and the outcome is a castle of fear, which you spend more time trying to climb over.
The first destination on my solo travel was Aurangabad. As I climbed into the train and found my seat, I made acquaintance with a young researcher, Masters in law and currently working for the Justice Department. He was on an assignment to collect data on check bounce cases across India. We connected and talked and discussed quite a bit. Eventually deciding to accompany each other and explore Ajanta Caves together.
We took a ‘Shivshakti’ bus (government bus service) to Aurangabad. The ongoing infrastructure constructions made the journey very difficult, both as an experience and for the time taken to reach the destination. As we set out to explore the caves, we noticed that the bus staff was trying to communicate with an elderly East Asian man about the time of return. Both of them were trying their best to communicate and comprehend, but the attempts were futile. Obviously, your’s truly volunteered to help.
Having visited china for 10 days on work, many years ago, I had picked up a few words and greetings. ‘Ni Hao’ is the Chinese greeting for ‘hello’. I had taken a note of his passport before greeting him. “NiHao” I said and he looked at me surprised. His face lit up like a neon bulb. Very greedily, he tried responding to me, and obviously, I had to disappoint him. All my knowledge of Chinese language ended at ‘Ni Hao’. I could not converse with him beyond the greeting.
Thanks to the dumb charades that I and my wife were damn good at, with careful choice of animated actions, I was able to get the message across to him. He knew no word of English and we didn’t know any Chinese. Even then he decided to tag along with Hussain and me for the rest of the journey. Now, I would like to you to visualise the conversation between me and this man because it was all via actions!
After a lot of effort, I was able to pronounce my name to him and he gladly shared his name as Cheng. We shook hands on it.Now, he officially showed me his passport so that I get his name right. Continuing in actions, I showed him how old I was, which was 40years and he shared his as 55. He we went ahead and used the calendar on his phone to show me his date of entry into India and his date of departure. I was amazed, he had been around for a month already.
We spent a lot of time in each other’s company, which was an experiment in itself. We explored Ajanta Caves, had dinner together and also shared all the expense. He also asked me what I was paying for my stay. I told him that I was paying Rs.350 and he very emphatically responded that he is coming with me.
I introduced him at the hostel. He stayed the night there and we continued explore Ellora, Daulatabad Fort on the following day. He was set to leave for Bombay (mumbai) that night. He showed us his wallet to tell us that his Indian currency is exhausted and he needed help. He reached in his pocket to draw out a 100 dollars and gives it to me to help him with the exchange. I was honoured at the trust he had placed in me. That feeling in itself was something I will cherish all through my life. I negotiated on his behalf and got him a good deal. He left for Bombay after saying a warm bye to us.
The learnings were significant on this first solo destination after attending the course with traveler’s university on “Transforming from Tourist to a Traveler”.
Here is this alien man who knew no word of English, travelling in India with just a translator app, trying everything non-native to him and placing trust in someone non native. This was my moment of understanding that the Universe takes care of everyone and everything in it, we just have to trust the Universe and have faith that that it is all going to be okay. The roads might not be as smooth as we want, but eventually each curve, each stone, each ditch and each high will be an experience adding to this journey.
My take away from the interactions and experiences with Cheng, Hussain were many. I have put together a few points for anyone who intends to start traveling solo.
- Start with the belief that you can survive
- Acknowledge other travelers, they are in the same boat as you are, with same anxieties and excitement.
- Learn the art of small talk with any stranger- Name-Place-Eat-Weather-Clothing-Music-Age. Use your identity card, and google translator wherever necessary
- Learn greeting of the land. Google helps here too
- Smile more often
- Share and give more to your fellow travelers
- Be in the interest of the others