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This is a throwback to that one fearless journey I embarked upon just about 3 years ago, a throwback to the person that I was in the moment that I took this picture. A throwback to the place, the middle of nowhere type place that I was at. A throwback to the chemical war that has happened inside of me ever since. A throwback to the people I had around me in that moment.

There is a very different kind of free that a person feels when they travel solo. Traveling solo really is by far one of the most underrated experiences ever. It took me weeks to decide on where to go, when to go, all I knew was that I was going, and I finally did. Nepal it was. I started reading up on the beautiful country and it occurred to me that to liberate myself, to be able to get away for a while, to explore the much talked of Nepali culture, to hog on the ever-so-delightful food of the country, I must go.

I started off soon after I hadn’t planned it that well apparently. I got on a train to Gorakhpur, since that is the closest to Sanauli border, crossed the border, literally on a Rickshaw, got my currency exchanged, hooked on a mini bus to Kathmandu and within 4 hours I was in Thamel. Thamel is another world it itself. I had booked myself a bed in an adorable little, also very pocket friendly hostel that was in Thamel.

I got off right in front of it. The hostel looked just how I’d imagined it to be; ALIVE AND KICKIN’! I hadn’t seen a hostel so colorful, so beautiful before. I checked in, exchanged smiles with people all through the way as I dragged my bag up the stairs. My room was on the 2nd floor and my roommates were probably away at that moment except for this girl from Egypt who was checking out. We said our His and Byes and I went in to for a shower. As I got back the room, my roommates were back. Wong was from Korea and Samuel was from England. They were so easy-going and fun, it still makes me smile.

I headed out after an hour-long chat with the two and got back to the hostel say 8ish in the night. I lay down on my bed, reading for a while and then went to the terrace that also served as the café/canteen area. That moment, ah. The terrace looked like another world of it’s own, again. I didn’t know the hostel had so many people. The terrace as I recall was gorgeously lit with fairy lights all over and had Jazz-Rock playing low. I got myself a cup of Irish tea and dat down in a corner reading. “Hey, would you have a light?” I heard this guy ask me. “Um, I’m sorry. “ Nevermind. You’re free to join us though. I’m Hitoshi.” And introductions followed.

I soon met the very beautiful Maria Denise Christroffersen. She randomly saw us sitting on the terrace and joined us. I found myself talking to Maria for hours. So much between the two os us was in common, be it our love for travelling, our love for space, our love for journalism, our love for our families, our boyfriend stories, our music stories, it’s uncanny!

I stayed at the hostel for a week and not on any of the evenings then did I sit alone.

We often planned short walks and tours together. Our early morning chai and dinners HAD TO happen together. Until 5 days later the last day of my journey was almost coming to an end.  I was rather low and I guess it showed on face. Maria, Toshi and the other guys planned to take me out that night. I had really been wanting to explore the night life of Thamel and also hog on some Nepalese delicacy that the place is known for. So, we did. We looked up, asked around and went to the mad place called the Purple Haze. It was a café, a pub and a bistro lounge that is one of the most go-to places when one talks of the night life of Thamel.

We had a killer local band performing there that night. The place was full but we soon fund ourselves a spot alongside these medical students who had come down to the city for the weekend. We ended up having so much more fun that we had ever imagined. We danced, we chatted, long hazy conversations, some really good music and a night worth remembering. Later on our way back to the hostel, I remember, we took the longer route. It was such a great night, I often find myself looking back to it. The next morning is a blur, just how I wanted it to be. Goodbyes hurt me to the hilt. We’re all mostly terrible at them, I know I am.

I saw everyone off, hugged them for a good one minute, exchanged our digits, Facebook usernames hoping we would all keep in touch and see each other again someday. I couldn’t stay low for too long though given the fact I had had such a great time. The only regret I carried within me was that I’d not been able to spend good quality time with Maria. It just didn’t seem enough and I was missing her already.

But you know how some of our good deeds always come back to us in some or the other form? Looks like Maria was missing me just the same as well. It had been a week to me having touched down Lucknow, I was trying to get back to my regular life and BAM! My Facebook Inbox pops up. “Hey. I miss you, ok? I am in Banaras and I think I will take a detour to Lucknow instead and come see you before I finally head back out of your beautiful country.” It was Maria. She was coming to Lucknow. For me. I was the happiest kid that day! Soon, she came, stayed with me and family for 2 days. My mom stuffed her face with Biryani and heavy paranthas, also dolled her up in kurtas, jhumkis and a bindi. We went out for long drives, talked for hours, had so much, great food, I showed her around and re-discovered my own city in a whole new light. 2 days flew in a zap and it was time for her to go but this time with no regrets. Maria and I still very much in touch and will hopefully soon be travelling together. She is such a bud, she met me at a point in time I was starting to give up a little on friendships but she really held me up.  I wrote to her before I started doing this story. She writes back..

“Sounds like a good story that you’re doing, babe. Takes me back to that day I saw you in the hostel in Kathmandu hanging out with the other guys and I remember instantly thinking that you looked like a really cool girl. But maybe unlike at least some other cool people, you looked approachable and kind. These assumptions I quickly realized were both true. Visiting you in Lucknow was by far the highlight of my whole journey to India, so many glimpses of happiness, of that magical feeling of not wishing for anything else or more in that particular moment. The way you and your family welcomed me into your home has colored my whole perception of the enormous country that is India. And I cannot smell or eat byriani (biryani) without an ache in my heart to go back.  See me soon.”

See her soon, yes I will.

-Alisha Asif

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