Solo travel is my favourite form of self-care
In just three days at the Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, my anxieties had washed away like the tub water I soaked in for hours
A few weeks ago, my grandmother came to live with us. I was ecstatic because that meant three delectable meals every day and someone to advocate for me in front of my ‘mom’ster. There was one thing I didn’t account for. All the marriage jokes and the sly comments about my cousin’s upcoming nuptials. Subtlety is not my family’s strong suit. Although, 25 is a confusing age. How am I eligible to be married when I can’t even parallel park? My grandmother, like many from her generation, believes that a woman’s life begins only after she bags a husband. Her mindset, while irksome, is not surprising. When I told her I wanted to get my hair coloured, she said “shaadi ke baad jo karna hai, karna“. It’s the same response I got when I told her I was getting a tattoo and that I was considering solo travel for three days. Side note: if I put a rupee into my piggy bank every time I heard that statement, it wouldn’t be as light as air.
I didn’t listen to her. Just before the Omicron cloud rolled in, I took off for three days by myself to the Narendra Bhawan hotel in Bikaner. I didn’t know until I got there, but it was exactly what my anxiety-filled, travel-starved soul needed. Over three days of my first solo travel experience, I transformed into my spirit animal — the sloth. I ate like a maharaja, napped and lounged around the gorgeous property. It was the kind of pampering I needed to get the quarantine smell off my hands.
I got a whiff of what those three days would feel like as soon as I exited the compact Bikaner Airport. A chauffeur from the hotel greeted me with a Happydent smile, a signboard with my name on it ( a milestone adulting moment) and a wide range of refreshing beverages. I knew from the get-go that I needed to embrace indulgence like it was my travel companion.
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is not just another haveli-turned-hotel. It’s a memento of the life that its former owner, Maharaja Narendra Singh of Bikaner, led. Built in 1969, the property continues to be a testament to his luxurious and worldly lifestyle. It’s a place where Art Deco and nuggets of history form a potent cocktail with modern design and effortless style. Narendra Singhji’s outlook is reflected in a myriad objects scattered throughout the property. Old photographs, rich fabrics, priceless paintings and even a room dedicated to perfumes. The very first thing that caught my eye was the bright red baby grand piano that adorns the hotel’s foyer. And of course, the gigantic taxidermy leopard that nearly caused my soul to leap out of my body. All these tell the story of a man who lived larger than life and truly carped the diem.
Despite building it up in my head, I never thought solo travel would be my cup of tea. For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine just sitting by myself in a restaurant, sipping wine and meeting new people. But that’s all I want to do now. Before my stay at Bikaner, I’d worry about going away by myself? Would I get bored? Who would I talk to? What if I got lost? But after spending three days by myself in a city I’d never been to, living it up at a hotel that oozed luxury, I know that travel can be fully optimised when you do it alone.
I didn’t let the fact that I was there by myself intimidate me. I took my book down to the hotel’s open-air Gaushala restaurant, ordered myself a drink and did something I’d never done before- hung out with myself. I was forced out of my warm comfort zone. Luckily, I had delicious food, potent cocktails and cold winter nights for company.
The experiences at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner are curated to immerse you into their world. From the blindfold dinner that made me feel like a contestant on MasterChef to the lavish literary lunch (each dish is inspired by a passage from a classic book), followed by some lounging about my room’s private balcony. But the cherry on top of this already overindulgent cake was the spa. I’ve always been averse to massages. But this time, I was a relaxed hippopotamus basking in the sun. It was the most time I’d spent with myself since being in my mother’s womb, and I loved it.
There was a skip in my step, a tune on my lips and a relaxed feeling in my limbs. Like Sisyphus finally able to get the rock to the top of the mountain. All my anxieties and fatigue had been washed away like the tub water I spent hours soaking in. The big question was, why? Why did solo travel make me feel like I was walking on air?
It hit me while I was walking around Junagarh Fort, looking at the armour worn by the maharajas. This is a fort that has never been conquered. It has defence mechanisms that can literally take down elephants, and booby traps no one ever saw coming. But after generations of standing alone, these elaborate defence mechanisms have become mere tourist attractions. Spending time with myself caused me to lay down my guard and relax. Without realising it, the absence of a travel buddy allowed my inner batteries to recharge to 100%. I was focused and confident. Like my old Blackberry, that always worked better after I removed the batteries and put them back in.
Everyone has their own method of self-care — after the trip to Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, solo travel is mine.