Ten lessons and lots of stories from my hybrid solo trip to Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh – Episode 105

Scenic view of the mountains in Dharamkot

Travel in itself gives fresh perspectives, but solo travel adds a deeper layer of learning and contemplation. My hybrid solo trip last month to Dharamkot (near Dharamshala), Himachal Pradesh was full of adventures and interesting experiences.

It was a mix of exploring on my own, as well as hanging out with a dear friend, Ekta. We got to spend time at various interesting places, talking to many lovely people. This episode is all about where I stayed, some of what I did, and ten of the many lessons I learnt.

Listen on the embedded player below, or on any podcast app that you like. If you prefer reading, then scroll down for the transcript. Enjoy! 🙂

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Transcript: Ten lessons and lots of stories from my hybrid solo trip to Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh

(gently edited for a better reading experience)

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Hello, hello, welcome back to The Feel Good Factor. I’m Susmitha Veganosaurus, and I’m so glad you could join me here today.

It’s finally time to tell you all about my trip to Dharamkot, in Himachal Pradesh

This was a hybrid solo trip. So when I say hybrid, I went there by myself but the trip was planned along with my friend Ekta, who runs Poornatvam. That’s her brand. She’s a yoga teacher.

So it all started because I read this really cute series of books called The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie. Ekta loves cats, so after I read the book, I kept recommending it to her, and she started reading it too.

The book is set at McLeod Ganj in Dharamshala/Dharamkot, near that area. So both of us were like, “oh, we should visit there someday. It’ll be so much fun. We’ll do a trip together.”

So finally, when we did start planning the trip, we looked online at the kinds of different things we could do, and we saw that the Dharamkot area would be much better than staying at McLeod Ganj which is a bit noisy and populated. Whereas Dharamkot’s kind of quiet and nice. It’s about 45 minutes walk away from McLeod Ganj. So we decided to stay up there at Dharamkot.

Ekta and Susmitha. Two tiny Indian women friends. Smiling wide. Sitting on a rock. Buddhist flags in the background. Location: Flag Point, Dharamkot.

We looked up a couple of art studios and other things that we could do, very loosely and casually planned our trip, and found a place to stay

I went there from Bangalore and Ekta came there from Rishikesh. She came a day later and she left a couple of days earlier. We both had our own rooms and we decided to do some things together, and some things on our own, and that’s why it’s a hybrid solo trip.

I had a lot of time to be by myself, go out, explore, meet people. But I also had a lot of time with her, just enjoying her company. And both of us went out to eat, we attended some workshops together, meditation, some walks. So it was a very beautiful amalgamation of enjoying time with my own self, as well as with a very, very dear friend.

So in today’s episode, I wanted to talk to you about some of the lessons that I learned on this solo trip

I would say some of these are new lessons. Others were reminders, things I already kind of knew, but maybe I needed to experience them to be reminded that, “yeah, this is true” and validate these thoughts that I had in my head.

Let’s get right down to it. The first lesson…

1. Before you go on any trip, plan and prepare, but also don’t over plan and over prepare

So planning with a lot of room to go with the flow when you reach the place is a beautiful way to do a trip. This way you know where you want to stay, what you want to do, and make a few key decisions. Especially deciding on the location.

Have a general timetable because we have a limited number of days. So making a general timetable of the things we want to do is where the planning and preparation comes. Booking certain things in advance so don’t so we don’t miss out on them and stuff.

Then, going with the flow is more about getting there and then leaving a lot of free time to decide what to do, depending on: Once you explore what do you discover? What do you hear other people tell you? Or even the weather, which is the most unpredictable thing.

It rained a lot through most of us stay at Dharamkot, so a lot of our plans changed according to that. So being open to going with the flow instead of making a very strict schedule beforehand, that helps a lot. And you’re able to experience things a lot better.

So that was the first lesson: planning, preparation, while also leaving a lot of room to go with the flow. A loosely planned vacation.

Lesson number two is…

Sky, trees, railings with Buddhist Flags. Solo travel at The Unmad, Dharamkot, Dharamshala.

2. Always stay at a place that you’re going to be comfortable at

This sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t take this into consideration. They think, “okay, I want to be close to this particular area”, or “I want to not spend too much money on my stay because I’m going to be roaming around all day anyway.”

These are the thoughts which a lot of people commonly have. But it’s extremely important to have a room, a space where you can be relaxed, you can withdraw into, and be very comfortable. That’s going to refresh you, and give you the energy to then take anything that comes on up the trip in your stride.

If plans change, if it’s raining cats and dogs, if things are like that, you’re able to easily accept it because you can just retreat into your room and it’s going to be nice, it’s going to be nice for you.

I stayed at this place called The Unmad. I hadn’t heard of them before but I found out about them through this pottery studio, the Dharamkot Studio people. I asked them, “where can I say which is kind of close to you?” and they suggested The Unmad to me. And I’m so grateful they did.

The room was just right for me

It was big enough to accommodate me, all my stuff, and move around freely. It had a cosy bed, not one of those spring mattresses that all these resorts and hotels have, but a nice mattress which is just the right balance of firmness and softness.

They had thick blankets, and for that weather, they provided things like a hot water pack, and hot water kettle, boiler in the room (so that we can turn off and on the hot water whenever we want for our bath). So there were a lot of facilities this way in the room.

And the beauty is that they also did room service at no extra charge from their in-house cafe. So on the days that it was too rainy and I was feeling too lazy to get out of bed and go out, I could easily order food into the room, and just eat there.

Now I know there are rooms for a lot cheaper available in that area, and people do take those. This one wasn’t expensive either, it was a mid-range price. But I’m very, very content that I decided to pay that price because it was worth every single paisa you paid for the room.

So yeah, here’s here’s a little shout out to The Unmad. If any of you ever visit Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh area, then stay with them.

Then the next lesson is location…

3. Location is so important: based on what you’re looking for, you decide where you need to stay

Don’t compromise on this aspect.

My dad told me to stay at this resort. He felt that because I’d be travelling solo, and staying there alone a lot of the time, he felt that it’s going to be safer for me to be inside that resort.

But the thing is, the resort was located like two hours away from all the activities that I wanted to do, all the things that I wanted to experience. So I said, “no, I don’t want to stay there.”

It could’ve been very easy for me to go and stay there, but then that would have meant nothing. I could have gone and stayed at a resort at any place in India. Why go so far away to the mountains? How could I experience the real life there if I had to go stay enclosed in a little bubble inside a resort. And that was a great decision!

View of a town among the mountains, in a valley.

The place we stayed at was about 20 minutes walk away from the noisy places, so not too far away. We’d just get back to our rooms and be quiet whenever we wanted to, and go out into the crowd whenever we wanted to.

And thanks to Ekta, Dharamkot was our choice. Because she showed me a few websites, one was the Dharamkot Studio where we both took pottery lessons. It was also close to these other cafes and eateries and things like that. And away from all the noise and the crowd so that we could be really peaceful.

Like, when we wanted to experience the liveliness of people and music and crowds, we could always get that. But we always had a place to just withdraw into.

We were able to walk to every place

There was only one time that we had to take a vehicle, and that was on a visit to McLeod Ganj. Even there, we walked there, and then on the way back uphill we took an auto, only because we were short of time. Otherwise that’s also a walkable place if you’re in the mood to work.

So location is key, and you have to decide. This is where lesson one comes into play. You plan and prepare, and kind of have a general idea of what you want to do at a place, and that’s going to help you choose the right location for it so that you don’t have to travel too much, and worry about being dependent on transportation being available.

The next lesson…

4. Get your own space

It’s nice to travel with friends, with a group. It’s lovely to do that. But if your trip is going to be just maybe two days or three days, that’s all fine. You can all stay together, share rooms and things like that.

But if your trip is going to be many days, like mine was 10 days long, then it’s very important to have your own space.

Cozy bedroom at The Unmad. Private, quiet, happy place for a solo traveller.

We all are different, you know. All of us are different kinds of people. All of us have different energy, different habits, different behaviours. We can’t get along all the time.

And why do you want to add any unpleasantness to your trip at all, right? Where instead of enjoying the time you have together, if you’re like, “oh no, we have to stay, and I have to live with this person, and deal with their habits.”

I don’t even mean like bad habits and stuff like that. I mean things like… Ekta is a morning person, she wakes up at like 4am-5am. Even in that cold! She’s a yoga teacher, that is her lifestyle. She gets up, she gets ready, has a bath, goes out. And I stay in bed till 9 o’clock minimum. Minimum.

So it wouldn’t have been suitable at all for us to be staying together in the same room

Even though it would have saved us money, right? Because we’d be paying nearly half of what we paid for accommodation. It would have taken away from other things.

Now throughout the day whenever I wanted silence, I just returned to my room. Whenever she wanted silence, she’d just go off into her room. We’d do our own things.

We both meditate, and we do a bunch of different things which are similar also, but things which you’d like to do alone. You know, reading quietly and all that stuff. We got to do all of that.

And then, whenever we felt like it, we’d message each other or call each other, and we’d be like, “Shall we go here? Shall we go for lunch? Can we do this, can we do that?” And then we’d go out together.

Having that own space really helped us get along better despite our different points of view, our differences in personalities, all of it.

So far, all these lessons are things which are reminders for me. I kind of already knew it, and that’s why I planned the trip that way. But this next lesson was a surprise to me. It was really something I truly, truly learned.

5. Sometimes, India can be a lot better place to travel solo at than anywhere in say Europe or another country

I know, it sounds surprising, right? Because there are so many facilities and conveniences, better developed roads and pathways, and stuff like that abroad, in other countries. Yes, I know.

But you know where India is so special? No matter where you go, whether it’s a place of stay, or whether it’s somewhere where the taxi driver’s taking you, wherever it is, people are a lot more helpful! The nature of being in service is a lot stronger, I’ve seen, in India than in other places.

For example, a few years ago, I had done a solo trip to Italy. And there, almost everywhere, whichever location I stayed at, I had to lug my own suitcases and stuff upstairs, or down the road. People wouldn’t really be bothered to help.

I’m not talking about strangers. I mean the people of say the hotel that I stayed at, or the cab driver who dropped me from one place, like say to the airport or something… nobody was helpful.

Nobody even gave it a second thought that okay, there’s a person here who’s alone who has this heavy luggage (especially on the return journey), and we need to help them. We need to extend a little bit more in service than just just dropping them from one location to another, or checking them into the hotel and giving them the room key.

Whereas in Dharamkot, right from the moment I landed at the airport, from the taxi driver who immediately took my suitcases and put them in the trunk, to the guys at the stay place who came down the stairs to take all my luggage and carry it up to the room….

As wonderful as this place is, The “Oonmadd”/The Unmad (it’s pronounced in two ways. “Oonmadd” is a Sanskrit term and Unmad is the English-fied version, the words are not a translation of each other), it’s a place which has a LOT of steps! You have to go up and down a lot of stairs to even reach the basic reception/check-in/cafe level.

So that’s 74 steps, I counted them. 74 not even very small steps, but slightly higher, cement/stone type steps. You have to lug yourself up all of those to even check-in or to reach that level of entering the stay place. Plus I had another 30+ steps to go up, to reach my room.

View from the top, looking down at the many, many steps to reach The Unmad, Dharamkot.

So that’s a lot of stairs, lot of walking, and it’s very difficult to carry things

If you’re fit, if you’re strong, if you’re able-bodied and all that, you can climb up the stairs. That’s not a problem. And in fact, the longer you stay there, over days you get very used to it. But you can’t lug things up.

It’s not easy to carry luggage. And it’s not like I packed a lot, it was not very heavy luggage either. But even so, it was not easy. It would not have been easy for me to carry it up.

But as a part of the service itself, they say right before you even book the rooms, “you have so many steps you’ll have to climb to reach your rooms. But our team members will help you carry the luggage upstairs.” You know, it’s promised beforehand.

Even with the, like I said, the taxi driver, as soon as he dropped me at the place, he got up and took the luggage out of the car, then handed it to The Unmad guys. They took it to the room.

You have this feeling of being treated very royally with these simple gestures

Gestures of this kind make you feel like you’re receiving royal treatment. So this is something that really made a difference. It’s the stark difference between my travel in Italy and my travel in India.

And it’s a very big deal, especially when you’re solo. Sometimes you know, after a certain point you feel a bit lost or lonely. You’re wondering what to do, and then people being helpful, you know, having this nature of service, that makes you feel at home, that makes you feel confident to go anywhere alone and to be in that place, in those areas alone. So that was really nice.

And overall also, in Dharamkot I saw that people were generally quite helpful and friendly, and welcoming of tourists there. So that was a very nice feeling.

Lonely bench in the middle of a wooded clearing. Solo travel scene from Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh.

The next lesson, which was very important for me, was to realise that…

6. First impressions aren’t the whole picture

Now, here’s what happens. As a woman who’s travelling, you’re very tuned to danger. Your instinct for unsafe people and situations is very high, and very sharp. So you have a tendency to kind of stay away from men especially who may seem a little loud or seem to be smoking somewhere. Or maybe a little drunk, and things like that.

And yes, all this is good. We definitely need to keep ourselves safe and everything. But I also learned on this trip that first impressions aren’t everything.

So here’s what happened. At the end of every evening, we would all, a group of us, a lot of the guests, we’d go down to the cafe and just sit around there and chat.

It was a lovely ritual the way we ended our day talking into the night

And then we’d all go off to our rooms to go to sleep. It was really nice exchanging different things that happened through the day, or even talking about various, various interesting topics. And it was just lovely. The ritual was so close to my heart.

There there was this one guy who… I mean there are multiple tables, so people sit in different groups, and this man was sitting with others initially when I’d seen him, not with our gang. But there were some overlaps, like people from our table would also know people from their table and things like that.

So sometimes people would switch around and we’d all sit with each other and stuff. And this guy seemed a bit rowdyish to me, a little loud, a little kind of rough, and someone who I felt like, “I don’t really want to spend time talking to this person because we’d probably not have anything in common.”

I’d seen him smoking a few times. And I’m not saying smokers are bad or anything like that, but just that very big difference in the way we are, you know, just by that itself I felt a huge difference.

I had all these preconceived notions. So the first impression, the first few words he said, the first few sentences he said when we were all at the same table, it really didn’t appeal to me or impressed me. It felt off to me. I didn’t really like a lot of what he said, and I’m like, “okay, I don’t have to interact much with this guy.”

It just so happened that a couple of days in a row we kind of sat at the same table. And then we started chatting more and more, all of us.

Then I realised that every person is like an onion – that first impression, it’s not that it’s untrue, but it’s only one layer

As you get to know a person, as you keep spending more time with the person, you’ll see that you have other things in common. And even if you don’t have things in common, you’ll find what they say interesting and fun.

Especially because they’re not the same as you, especially because their life experiences have been so extremely different from your own life experiences, it’s actually interesting, and entertaining, and fun. And then you can share your thoughts, your perspectives on each other’s experiences, with each other.

By the end of the trip of course my preconceived notions were gone and I did enjoy the conversations that we all had as a group. It was a nice reminder for me that yeah, don’t don’t just believe in first impressions.

Yes, trust your instincts, especially when it comes to safety and protecting your energy. Trust your instincts, but also give people a chance. A bit more chance, you know, just see what they’re going to be like, get to know people a little better with curiosity and openness, and an open mind.

Just get to know them, and you never know the kind of interesting things that you’ll get to experience through their stories. This was a good lesson for me.

And of course, this is just one example of a person, but this happened to me multiple times on the trip. And many, many first impressions of either kind switched for me. As I got to know people more, I felt that I like them more. Or I realised that, “no, I don’t want to spend this much time with this person anymore.” So it’s a very interesting and a good reminder for my life overall.

7. Don’t make too many plans, and overbook your time

This kind of ties into lesson one, but it’s so important not to have FOMO. Just don’t have FOMO. There’s a lot to do, a lot to see in every place you visit, and there is no way ever that you’re going to be able to do it in that short span of time that you’re visiting the place. So don’t let FOMO overcome you!

Yes, it’s good to have desires and interests, and this idea of, “I want to see this place, I want to do this thing.” But if you have too much planned out, too many things on the cards, or even just too many desires, like, “I want to see this, I want to do that, I want to be there”, unfortunately, whatever you do end up experiencing ends up being shallow, because your mind is everywhere else.

Susmitha, short haired Indian lady, intently looking down an working with terracotta on a pottery wheel. Location: Dharamkot Studio

Right when you’re in the midst of one activity you’re already thinking, “okay, tomorrow I’m gonna go there, do this.” Or worse, you’re gonna be like, “oh, no, it’s the end of the trip, and I only got to do so many things.” So you’re not in the moment, you’re not present, and you’re not experiencing whatever it is you’re experiencing right then. So you don’t get the full benefit, the full joy and fulfilment out of it.

So don’t have too many desires. Just say, “whatever happens, whatever works out, it’s okay.” Have some two, three, you know, keep lesser interests on the cards. “I want to do two, three things, eat at these two, three places. I want to visit this one other thing,” and then let it flow.

Beyond that, don’t don’t pile things up

That also gives you the freedom to decide instead of thinking, “okay, I have to do this today, and get it out of the way.” If you feel like doing something else instead, if something else is calling to you, you have the full freedom to go and do it because there is no fear of, “if I miss it out today, I won’t get to do it.”

Close up view of handmade terracotta pieces during the pottery workshops at Dharamkot Studio

Okay, you don’t get to do it means you don’t get to do it. That’s it. Keep yourself very flexible. Just enjoy the Joy Of Missing Out instead of living in the fear of missing out. Then…

8. Stay off social media!

I deleted Instagram from my phone for the entire duration of my trip. I actually did it a few days before I left, and I came back to Instagram slowly, aaramse, many days after I returned back to Bangalore. It really freed my mind. It gave me more time.

Now I’ve done this entire episode of what a difference life is when you get off social media, take that break for a month or two, or long stretches of time. You can listen to all about that on #episode 72# of the podcast. It’s about How My Instagram Break Changed My Life. How it changed my perspective on everything.

So I won’t go into detail about that here. You can listen to it there if you’d like to know more about it. But being off Instagram helped me in two key ways on this trip.

One is, it saved me time. Because yes, you touch your social media channel of any kind (it’s not necessarily only Instagram, it could be WhatsApp, Facebook, TikTok, wherever you are), you touch it and then you’re down the rabbit hole. You’ve lost yourself, you’ve lost the time.

If you’re going to lose yourself on Instagram, why are you even going to any place, travelling so far, and putting all the effort to be somewhere else, just so that you can go and sit on Instagram? Right? If you’re going to just spend your time staring at your mobile phone the whole time.

Even if it’s an hour a day, it’s still a lot. That’s precious time that you could spend just being present and enjoying what is actually around you in real life. That’s one way it helped me.

Two, when I was taking pictures, or when I was deciding if I should take a video clip or just watch something, I didn’t do it from the point of view of Instagram. Now I have a lot of Insta-worthy photographs and videos. I managed to grab those. But I didn’t do it for Instagram, and that’s the difference.

Fabulous view of valley. Mountains in the background. Tiny steps and houses nestled in the middle. Lush greenery all around.

There’s so much more that I saw and enjoyed which I didn’t even bother to capture

Like, there were long stretches of time when my phone was just in my pocket, or in my bag, and forgotten entirely. I was just completely where I was, in that moment. And that was very, very beautiful.

So consider this the next time you’re on a trip, delete social media apps from your phone completely and just disappear, disappear from social media. See the world of differences gonna make for you!

Of course not staring at my phone also helped me have more meaningful conversations and interactions with people around me, because I wasn’t distracted with notifications, or these things that I need to catch up with online. I wasn’t distracted by any of it. So I was fully present in the moment you.

That also added so much more meaning and so much more beauty to my entire trip! Just having those conversations. So that again is something that helps when you stay off your phone and stay off social media.

9. Do things on your trip that you can only do locally and nowhere else

You know, off-beat, very local stuff. Visit the kind of places which you may not be able to visit anywhere else. Do the kind of activities that are not so accessible anywhere else. Be true to that place you’re at.

Don’t try to go and look at only all these touristic, crowded locations. Don’t say, “okay, all these touristic things are there. These are all the places that other people have posted about. I also need to do this.”

Instead, you discover what is unique, and what is quiet, even if it’s not popular. That’s the important part, even if it’s not popular, if it’s unique to that particular place, then enjoy it, experience it.

On my last day of the trip, I decided to go hike uphill. I’d been hearing about this place called the Sunset Cafe that everybody was telling me about. They’re like, “this is in Gallu, and there’s a beautiful sunset there, and you have a nice walk, you can hike up the hill track there”, and all that.

So I just decided on a whim. It was my very last day, the last evening. The weather was nice, it was not raining, and somehow I felt, “let me just go outside. I feel like doing this now.”

So I just got out of the room and started working upwards. By then, my friend had also left so there was no one to coordinate with, nothing. I just went on my own.

One lonely girl wearing dungarees, trudging uphill on a steep path.

On my way up, I met a couple of Buddhist monks and it was kind of nice, like angels had sent them

So initially when you start hiking upwards you’re just going up the steps, and then suddenly the steps disappear and it’s all just rocks and rickety places. And then you have to somehow managed to climb up.

I was like, “Am I lost? Can I do this? Can people even go up here?” I was feeling so clueless, and thankfully because of these two Buddhist monks my journey became nicer. They were also new to that place. They said that that they’re from Nepal, and they were visiting here to visit the Dalai Lama for one of his talks. And they wanted to discover the place, and so they were also hiking up the hill just like that.

They’d stopped on the way to talk to this tea seller. And he had told them, “yes, you keep going up this way, this is the direction,” and all that. They’d taken directions from him.

I’d watched them talk to someone, and I was just waiting at this one spot where the steps ended and I’d gone up a few rocks, and was like, “am I even in the right direction?”

I saw them in the distance and I was waiting and watching. What are they going to do? I watched them talk to that guy and I could see him pointing from the distance at some different places. I understood this was the route.

Then these two monks, they came up to where I was, and then I said, “is this the way to go?” And they said, “yes.” And they were very sweet. They said that they’re used to all these mountainous pathways, and tracking up all these areas where there is nothing to track up, in the sense of, there is no actual path, you just make your own path and go up the rocks. So they’re very used to it, they said.

And they took a lot of care, you know. While I was going up, they were telling me, “come this side, move to this side. It’s safer.” We were all taking breaks, breathing. It was not like they were super fit or anything like that. We all kind of had the same fitness level. Except, I have to admit, one of them was quite old, and at his age he seemed to be as fit as I am, which is like a very normal, average level of fitness.

I walked up that track with them, and finally reached Gallu. Then there was a point where we parted ways. They went downhill and then I went further up.

So yeah, it was a very fun experience getting to know these strangers, getting to know the terrain. It’s very quiet. We barely saw any other people on the way. I really would’ve been lost if I was on my own on the way up.

And then after I reached Gallu, I knew there was a temple. So I stopped there for a while and took in the scenery.

I could finally see in the distance some snow capped mountains and everything

By the way, I’m going to be sharing photographs from my trip when I do the blog post for this episode. So it’s going to be up on my website, maybe next week or the week after. I’m working on that part slowly, but just letting you know. So you’ll be able to see some of the photographs of all these beautiful, lush scenic places.

Zoomed in view of snow capped peaks.

Anyway, I went to the temple first, stayed there for a while. Then I asked someone, “how do I go to Sunset Cafe?”, because that’s the one everybody had been talking about.

First, somebody gave me some directions and I walked, walked, got a little lost, somebody else gave me directions. And then finally, there’s this little, little pathway. It’s like a little track in the middle of the forest next to some tiny waterfalls, streams and stuff. You don’t even realise it’s there. Unless somebody tells you, you won’t even know that this is the direction to go.

It was fun, and it was a little scary going there on my own too, but it was fun, you know. That excitement was there, that adventure and excitement. And when I went up the pathway, at this one point I saw this place called the Sundowner Cafe. It’s this tiny little shop where the guy has this kitchen, and there are two-three seats, just like this one long seater, and then two-three seats, and then outside, a few more seats. And it was so beautiful!

It’s a cute little place, and the scene from there, the views from there are absolutely beautiful!

I just sat down there, initially there were two people in the cafe, then they also left. And I was wondering like, “is Sundowner Cafe the actual name of the place, and everybody else is calling it Sunset Cafe?” I was wondering that, and I was like, “wait, if this place is so famous, how come there’s no one here?”

But anyway, I enjoyed the views peacefully. After my long walk up the hill, it was very nice to sit there. I ordered some mint tea and drank it. And then I asked the guy to click some pictures of me looking out the window. So inside, outside, I really enjoyed my time there.

View of the mountains through a glass of mint tea.

And then I told him, I said, “oh, everyone says Sunset Cafe, but you’re called Sundowner.” And he said, “yeah, Sunset Cafe’s further up. It’s about 200 feet or so. Not really very far.” So I was like, “Oh! I see.” It makes sense that it’s another cafe. And I walked up to that place.

Now I’ll tell you, Sunset Cafe is cute. It’s more well lit, a little bit more modern. You know, it’s not a little tiny shed type place like the Sundowner. It looked like it had better tables up and down and stuff.

But it also had loud music. It had a big crowd it had lots of dogs. Cute dogs, it’s nice to see them from afar. But when you want to have a quiet, peaceful time, definitely that’s not the place.

So even though that was the popular place, I walked away from there

I just went there, looked around, explored, smiled, spoke to the owner, asked him what vegan options he had, and then just walked away from that. And came right back to Sundowner Cafe.

I sat there, ordered some nice, hot noodles, ate them. And I told that guy, I said, “you know, that place is nice, but it’s too noisy and crowded. I like your place better. The views are nicer. And I do enjoy this place.”

He had very soft, or old Hindi music playing. And some mantras and stuff also once in a while, it was very nice.

So the point is, there are these two places, one is a lot, lot more popular, and everybody’s going there. And there’s this other place which is really not even well known. But to me, the not so popular place was the one that appealed to me more, because it was quiet and peaceful. And it was nice.

It was really lovely and cosy to sit there. I didn’t feel out of place. I didn’t feel like I crashed in somebody else’s party when I was there.

Susmitha, short haired Indian lady with glasses. Sitting cross legged on a bench, smiling at the camera. Sky and mountains outside the window.

So I went to the place run by the very, very local guy. I enjoyed that. And I did not feel like I missed out on anything just because I didn’t spend time at the Sunset Cafe which so many people had spoken to me about until that point. So yeah, you don’t have to do the popular things, you do the very local things, do the things that appeal to you.

That makes your trip feel richer and more satisfying

It doesn’t make it feel like one checklist. “Okay, I did this, I got this done. I visited this place.” It’s not that, it’s not a flat checklist.

Instead, you get to explore a place in more depth, understand local culture. I had a chat with the Sundowner Cafe guy and he was telling me a little bit about his life and the place and stuff. So it was so nice, the whole experience was lovely.

And then I headed back on my own and came back. That was such a beautiful way to end my trip!

I just came back on my path going downwards also. I was a little scared to take the same path, but that guy encouraged me, he said, “no, no you can do it. Just do it. The longer path, it takes like three times the amount of time”. So I just came down.

Lonely, peaceful path in the middle of a mountain forest. Solo trip to Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh.

Coming down was a lot easier because I knew where I was headed versus not knowing where I was going

I was being careful of course, very very careful, so that I don’t slip and stuff. Then with a lot of breaks, I came down. And I went rushing downstairs to the cafe instead of even going to my room (which was on the way). I went straight to the cafe and my friends were there. Well, new friends. I just sat down and told them all about my adventure at Gallu. It was really so much fun!

10. My final, final lesson is, wherever you go, if you’re open, you can find family!

You can find like minded people, you can find friendships, you can find wonderful company. You can make sure that you feel at home, find the kind of situations that’ll make you feel at home.

So then, no solo trip that you go on will feel lonely. You don’t need to be with somebody. You just go there and you’ll find other people who you would love to spend time with.

So yeah, this is all that I can think of right now. I know there were many more lessons, many more things that I learned as a part of this trip, but this episode is getting really long. So I’ll stop here.

Friendly community at The Unmad Cafe, Dharamkot.

I do hope you enjoyed listening to all these stories, to these experiences from Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh

If you ever do visit, get in touch with me, I’d be happy to recommend a few more places to you, few more things that you can do. And if you’ve already been there, then write in to me and let me know what your experience was like. I would love to hear about it.

All right. Thank you for listening, talk to you again next week. Take care.

Transcribed using Otter

Susmitha Veganosaurus

Shorth haired Indian lady, beaming a wide smile. Flowers in the background. Vegan business coach and chef Susmitha Veganosaurus

“I’m a Spiritual Vegan Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur. I read voraciously, find humour in most things, and believe kindness and authenticity can make this world a happier, loving place.

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